September 19, 2014

Five Things Being a Competitive Swimmer Taught Me About Life

This is a post that has been floating around my mind a lot lately....probably due to my swimming again. Swimming is a sport that all swimmers will defend to the death but then turn around and complain about to our swimmer's an interesting combination. 

There are a lot of things I've learned in the pool that I find relate to life on land and the best knowledge is shared knowledge so I thought I'd share my nuggets of swimming wisdom with those of you who were born without gills. 

As all swimmers know, swimming is a team sport but (in 90% of all cases) an individual event. Much like life, you'll be swimming your own race, sometimes against people who are on your team. This doesn't mean that you are competing in an individual sport. I mean, sure, there are always the few swimmers that are entered without a team but they are always the ones getting pity glances as their Coach/Dad coaches them before their race.

The point? Yeah you're an individual in life and in the pool. But it's so much better to have your team screaming for you at the end of your lane than to have no one. Life may be an individual race, but it's a team game--so pick good teammates

My roommates in Beijing, Ramera and Daniela 

Doing a 100 IM is fun....once. Maybe twice. Maximum of three times. Beyond that, yeah welcome to hell. Leading your lane on an IM set is....tough. Being a leader at anything is tough but for this, it takes exceptional stamina and patience because inevitably the person behind you will touch your feet on at least one of the strokes. (Don't get us started on that seriously don't do it) Being the leader of your lane is a great feeling, plus a major ego booster, and you get the entire width of the lane for your wingspan on butterfly so you don't have to hit anyone in the head or tear your arm off on the lane line. 

You get it, a lot of perks. But a downside? Once you're finished with the fly portion, there comes backstroke. And there comes the hitting. Because the people behind you are not so lucky as to have the entire width of the lane for their strokes, even though they need the space. Inevitably you will be hit in the head, the arm, even the thigh when swimming backstroke by someone finishing their fly. The point of this story? Just because you're first now, and 'flying' without obstacles, doesn't mean you won't be hit with bumps in the road later. Don't get too cocky, don't get too proud, and definitely prepare for the things to come.

Relays are exciting as hell because there is less personal pressure on you (unless you're the first person) because instead of a row of 6, 8, 10 people getting ready for a swim, there are 24, 32, 40 people behind the blocks getting ready for one race. It ups the adrenaline to a level that won't ever be experienced on an individual race. The thrill of yelling for your teammates, the shaky nerves before your relay start, praying to god your teammate doesn't slow down before they hit the wall so you false start, and finally diving in yourself is an exhilarating experience. 

It has been my personal experience that when you swim a 50 free relay, you do it on average at least 1-2 seconds faster than in your individual 50 free. What does this mean in terms of life? Being part of a team improves your overall performance and your personal one. Embrace your team, cheer them for their successes, feel with them for their losses. 

The boys relay team: (L-R) Jat, Peter, Owen

Every swimmer has hit the wall at least once. I'm not talking about the actual wall (which we all have hit 100+ times), I'm talking about the wall of physical limits. We have all reached that one point during a set where we are heaving our way through all of the rest time at the actual wall, where we swear we cannot keep going and are already planning which injury to feign just to stop.

And I guarantee you we have all reached this point more than once. I also promise that we have all stopped at least once. But there are the points where whatever mantra is closest to your heart starts replaying in your head and you push through the set, leaving practice feeling a lot more proud than normal. (My personal mantra is this: "....the strong look for more strength while the weak look for excuses") The point? Everyone reaches a point where it seems impossible to keep going without bursting a lung or dying of heart failure. The ones that truly succeed are the ones that realize this is a mind game and keep going past this point.

Our relay team: (L-R) Cathy, Isabelle, moi, Ramera

My last point/story is this: after the weekend meet is over and your swimsuit is hanging upside down in the shower and you're positive your hair will never recover and the indentions of your goggles on your face will never fade, comes real life. Here come school, family commitments, and more swim practice. 

If you notice, after a meet all swimmers come back with some form of Sharpie writing somewhere on their bodies. We have our Events, Heats, and Lanes written on our arms and hands, sometimes on our thighs. We have "Eat My Bubbles" written somewhere your suit leaves a gap of skin, and usually we have random slashes made in-between events. You may not notice these on your own, but you'll definitely notice them after the swimmer wearing them loudly exclaims something like "oh my GOSH I cannot BELIEVE this is STILL on my arm?!?" 

You know why we call attention to these marks like that? We aren't embarrassed, like we claim to be. We're damn. proud. We swam really well, we had a great time, we heard the funniest story on the bus, our friend tore her cap two heats before she had to go up and was freaking out it was hilarious...well, you had to be there. 

Pride is my last point. Have pride in your teammates (aka friends, family, your village), have pride in what you're wearing (you'll never find a shy swimmer walking around the pool deck--we wear our fast skins, our caps, our goggles, and our track pants with pride!)--whether it is your favorite t-shirt, a new makeup style or haircut, anything. Take pride in your accomplishments, don't be afraid to brag a little! Got a good grade? Tell the world! Scored the last pudding at lunch? Tweet it out man, take pride! Most importantly, take pride in yourself. Yes, you are part of a team but that team is depending on you, that team needs you, you are an integral member of that team that cannot be replaced (no matter what your Coach threatens when you don't show up for Saturday practice). 

Take. Pride. in yourself and those surrounding you. Don't be too prideful or too cocky, however. Nobody likes those people. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself and be prepared to yell "hell YES I'm proud of myself for acing that test, for answering that question, for winning my heat!" Recognize that you are important and that you are necessary and take. pride. in. that.

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