Competitive Swimming: A Retrospective

On one of my college swimming training trips to Puerto Rico.
I started swimming competitively when I was nine years old after chasing my best friend around our community pool that summer. She convinced me to attend a practice at the local YMCA, and before I knew it, I was in love. I don't remember my first race, but I do have snapshot memories of certain meets and special moments.

I switched from the YMCA team to another team in middle school, the Lansing Cats, to follow my YMCA coach. I'd decided to take the sport a little more seriously, nearing the point of obsession. I kept a stack of all my old meet programs and psych sheets in my bookcase, memorizing the names of my competitors and getting to know the field at each meet.

As my desire to improve increased, I switched teams a second time to the best team and the most well-known coach in the Ithaca area, the Ithaca Aquatics Club (ITAC). My coach had a reputation for being one of the toughest coaches to swim for in the area. The practices were long (20x500 free was one of our favorites), the workouts intense, but Roy taught me some of the most important life lessons I've learned. He was a strong presence in my life when I desperately needed one, whether he knew that or not.

At the time, the Ithaca High School women's varsity swim team was a force to be reckoned with, and still is, but I wouldn't have a prayer of keeping up with the IHS girls now. Two of them swam in Olympic Trails this past year. Two others are making serious waves at Williams College. And countless others, whom I met when they were six or seven years old, have accomplished some incredible things.

When I started swimming at Cornell, I felt a bit like a big fish in a small pond. I'd been pretty successful in high school swimming, but college was a different story. I was training with and competing against some incredibly talented girls, and had my share of last place dual meet finishes in the distance events. It seemed no matter how much faster I got, I couldn't quite keep up. I did improve, but it was discouraging. That, coupled with trying to balance varsity athletics with school and a social life made college swimming stressful. My boyfriend introduced me to all the things he loves - climbing, backpacking, and hiking - which made me realized I'd missed a lot.

After graduation, I was ready to take a serious break from the sport. The lack of swimming facilities in Denali National Park, where I took my first post-college job, certainly helped! When I moved to Anchorage for my first and only Alaskan winter, I joined a masters swim team, SWAM, with the intent of swimming and racing because it was fun. I practiced for a few months, noticing the bad habits I had in age group and college swimming were still there. I raced in a short course meters meet in December of 2006, and that was it. It just wasn't as fun as I wanted it to be.

I'm certainly not bitter about the way my swimming career turned out. I definitely wasn't one of the fastest girls, but I loved it, and tried as hard as I could. I haven't missed swimming at all, perhaps a little at first, but only because it was such a big part of my routine. I find it hard to commit to any athletic endeavor now that requires a rigorous training schedule, mostly because I spent so much of my adolescence and early adult life doing just that. And Philadelphia makes it easy to ignore swimming - pools in the downtown area are pretty hard to find.

But after watching friends train for triathlons, watching the Olympics, and reading about a few swimmers doing some amazing things, including being featured in Outside magazine, I might just be ready to give it another shot. I won't be swimming the English Channel, and doubt I'll compete again, but who knows? Right now, I'm on a mission to find a 25 yard pool in Philadelphia, just to swim in, which alone has been quite a task! But I really think I'm ready for it, and ready to find the balance between all the things that are important to me at the moment.

Do you have a sport or puruist that was a huge part of your life for a long time, but isn't anymore, for whatever the reason? We'd love to hear from you!


daisie981 said…
I hope you can find a pool soon! We've talked about this alot, I think you're ready to get back in the pool and hopefully have learned how to just have fun and not take yourself so seriously. Remember, we do this for ourselves in our free time. It should make us feel good about ourselves to just be out there and living to the fullest!