At this time of year a lot of swimmers are finishing their championship meets and hanging up their fast skin for the last time.
For some, they will be leaving the sport on their own terms, satisfied and pleased with a career they can look back on with pride. For others, they are leaving the sport earlier than they liked, perhaps under circumstances they aren’t wild about.
Whatever the case may be, here are but a few of the things you miss when you stop swimming:
1. The Smell of Chlorine.
When you leave the sport there are the things you know you’ll miss: racing, your friends, having six pack abs.
But there are things that you don’t really think about, and the smell of chlorine is one of them.
It won’t hit you until months or even years later, when you walk past a random pool and a blast of chlorinated air hits you, sending you into a dazed and wistful state of reflection.
2. The Roadtrips.
The swimming road trips in our childhood are typically replaced by weekend trips to music festivals and random road trips with friends later in life, but they miss that certain excitement of being away from home that you got from going away for swim meets.
The car rides back and forth from the meet venue were often filled with loud pump up music, bad singalongs, and more lukewarm hotel pasta than you can shake a kickboard at, but time only seems to give the memories a brighter shine.
(My own rookie mistake: head-banging for the first time as an 11-year old with the senior group on the way to a meet to “Bohemian Rhapsody” left my neck unbelievably sore for the rest of the weekend.)
3. Those Moments When It All Came Together.
The hours and hours had been invested.
You made all those early mornings.
Shied away from those family-sized bags of Doritos when out with friends. And you paid extra attention during the main sets.
You got up on the blocks with a quiet confidence that comes with being prepared, and the swim that followed exceeded even your own expectations and hopes.
The moment you crashed into the wall with a massive surge, looked up at the scoreboard, saw the “1” beside your name, and a time faster than you considered possible.
Yeah. That moment.
4. Putting Together Psych-up Tunes.
There are certain songs that I look back on now and can strongly identify with particular meets I went to as a kid. A particular song I latched onto as my psych-up song for a full weekend of swimming.
They were the tracks whose lyrics seemed to describe perfectly the situation or motivation I was experiencing at the time, and to this day when I hear those tracks I can’t help but get a little fired up.
5. The Grind.
Yes, there were moments where you hated it.
Where you complained about having to get up at 4:45am to go to the pool and swim to the point of exhaustion for two hours. Or the times where coach made everyone redo a whole set because somebody didn’t do the breathing pattern properly.
But even though you complained, you always went back.
You knew there was still work to do, and that even if it was hard, it was worth it.
6. The Homies.
Your swimmer friends are your thunder buddies. Some you will be best friends with till the end of time, while others will come in and out of your life as the years go by.
But the closeness you develop over the months of years and training is hard to replicate in the real world. After all, you and your teammates were fully in it together.
You experienced not only the struggle together; the hell weeks, going to altitude, the endless lactate threshold sets, but also the shared sense of purpose, the shared accomplishment of doing something as a group and team.
7. Diving into an empty lane.
It’s hard to describe those first few moments when you dive into a quiet pool.
A sense of detachment from the real world? Of being separated from whatever is going on the rest of your life?
For many swimmers, even though the pool is the site of a lot of hard work and misery, it is also their own little happy place, somewhere they can go when they need to get out of their own head and out of whatever is happening outside of the lane lines.
8. Black line therapy.
Times get stressful as a kid. The pressures of school and of growing into yourself can often feel overwhelming. And while those sources of stress will change as you charge into adulthood, that black line will always be there.
The black line, and its quiet, non-judging company gave you an outlet to release the stress and frustration you are experiencing in the rest of your life.
It might not have fixed all of the things going on in your life, but the clarity and feel-betterness that came from swimming up and down that black line definitely helped.
9. The buzz you got from a great workout.
Sure, you’ll experience this in similar ways later in life.
It won’t be the same, though.
This is because swimming was your first love when it came to pushing your physical boundaries.
It showed you what was possible, and pushed your expectations and limits to levels you thought unreachable. The times that coach scrawled up a set that left you slack-jawed. Those 50k weeks of training. Those 100×25 at 100m race pace.
These were the moments of real struggle and challenge, and when you not only persevered, but excelled in those moments of adversity, you walked out of the pool with a little bounce in your step and feeling about six inches taller.
10. The sense that the sport is yours.
Swimming will never be a top-4 major sport in North America. (Sorry, Michael.)
Proof of this comes when ESPN is more likely to air coverage from arm-wrestling matches than break to Katie Ledecky’s utter domination of the freestyle events at the 2015 FINA World Championships.
Perhaps because of this the connection between swimmers and their sport is remarkably tight. We know that it wasn’t going to make us famous, or rich, or lead to extravagant endorsement deals.
We swam because we loved it.
Because at the end of the day we’d rather be nowhere else than gliding through the water.
We swam because in the most profound sense, the sport is ours.
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