Courtesy: Jharna Sutaria
My name is Jharna, and I was born to swim.
I’m not talking about being the first to slam my hand against the touchpad at the end of a two-hundred-meter freestyle race, although there were several years when I succeeded in that realm. Instead, I’m nodding toward my swim across the ocean floor of psych ward visits, hospitalizations, and the various waves of trauma that triggered them.
I was nine years old when I attended my first swim team practice. I wore Speedo goggles strapped upside down to my face, a bright green silicon cap, and a faded rainbow swimsuit. It was my entry into a sport that would teach me more life lessons than I thought I could swallow.
When I was twenty, I acquired my American Red Cross lifeguard certificate, and I remember the instructor telling the class that most, if not all, drownings are silent. I thought about how I almost drowned in the deep end of my life and how it seemed like the outside world barely noticed until it was almost too late. To this day, I tear up when thanking the family members, friends, and mentors who had the experience and empathy to resuscitate me to a point where I could drag myself to recovery. I still have some water caught in my lungs from the incident, and I occasionally try coughing it out, knowing fully well that I will have to live the rest of my life with some of it stuck inside me.
I was born into a loving family with deep imperfections—a household that celebrated everyone’s birthday together but kept dark secrets and haunting tension behind closed doors. My deepest struggles came from trying to find comfort and stability outside my home, my efforts falling short each time. These attempts at searching for a place to belong came in the form of inappropriate attempts at squeezing myself into the family portraits of several older male swim coaches. I punished them for not treating me like a daughter and went as far as having an affair with one of their nephews. I was looking for safety in ways that only invited pain.
At first, a couple of my coaches would try coming to my rescue in ways that were codependent as well, but it was never enough to fill my void. Eventually, after being unable to handle my chaotic attempts at grabbing their attention, they would leave me. These sharp stings of abandonment and dysfunctional enmeshment taught me that I needed to be an emergency to be loved. This was the main reason why I spent several years trudging along the path of destruction and self-pity.
During my junior year of high school, my relationship with my parents had strained into nothingness—stretched out so thin that you could barely see the remaining threads weakly hanging onto each other. Because of the growing turbulence that I no longer had the energy to numb out, I never wanted to go home after the end of my last class.
To cope with this, I landed a job as a part-time swim instructor at a local pool. It started as an escape, which would later bring me immense joy, fulfillment, and a sense of purpose. Teaching swim lessons gave me a different way to relate to a sport I’d desperately wanted to love again. I was seventeen at that time.
As the years passed, I took on leadership roles within the swimming world. I’ve now worked in various departments for several swim school businesses and continue to shed light on mental health issues among athletes through essays and articles such as this one. Entering the aquatics industry has by no means fixed things for me. I still have an ocean of healing to swim across, but seeing myself shine through interacting with my students, coworkers, and managers is one of the main aspects of my life that has kept me afloat. Even though my past experience with the sport of swimming burned a part of me, I am finally beginning to see the beauty in my electric blue chlorinated world once again.
My name is Jharna, and I was born to swim.
ABOUT JHARNA SUTARIA
Jharna Sutaria is a spoken word performer and creative writer. Their personal ties to mental health, sexual assault, and transphobia have led them to creatively advocate for the various social issues that they survived.
Sutaria prides themselves on being a passionate artist and poet with an eye for design and style, along with electric public speaking skills. It is through sharing their intimate pieces of work that they encourage others to use their voice.
In 2023, they won the Creative Arts category of Foothill College’s 6th Annual Research, Service, and Leadership Symposium. Shortly after that, Sutaria was selected to be a part of the Humanities Mellon Scholars Program, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Their writing has been showcased on multiple online platforms, including Palo Alto High’s Verde Magazine, The Script (Foothill College’s Student News), Swim Swam Magazine, Creative Communication, The Gay & Lesbian Review, American Swimming Magazine, Kings River Review, and the Coppell Gifted Association.