Remember when you were younger and it was the first day of school? The teachers used to ask us to participate in ice breakers, or little games for the purpose of introducing ourselves to the class. A popular one was to go around the class in a circle and introduce yourself with your name, favorite ice cream flavor and a fun fact.
From pre-school to college orientations, when asked to reveal a fun fact about myself, it would always be “I’m a swimmer.”
The only exception to this fact was when we did ice breakers on the first day of swim practice each year. I think my fun facts then were something along the lines of “I like the color green” or “I have two cats”. Underwhelming, isn’t it? I know.
I spent, give or take, 15 hours at club practice each week growing up, from age seven to nineteen. That’s roughly 780 hours each year. Multiply that by the amount of years I spent as a member of my club team, that’s 8,580 hours.
And that’s before you factor in the summer league swim team I participated in for 11 years, plus the 2 years I spent as head coach, plus the four years I competed at the high school varsity level.
Then, when you factor in my freshman year practicing and competing at the Divison I level. That’s about 20 hours per week, which amounts to about 640 hours of in-season training, plus off-season training that was done on my own. Plus my sophomore year, in which I participated in about half of the practices due to medical emergency, injury, and then surgery- so let’s say that’s another 320 hours.
From what I’ve been able to calculate, I’ve spent almost 10,000 hours in the pool. That’s not including the hours spent training during the offseason, sitting at weekend-long meets, on deck coaching, writing practices, or any of my time practicing or competing with my high school team.
It’s easy to see why I spent my childhood telling people that swimming is the most interesting thing about me. It was what I spent all of my time doing. It was the thing that gave me my highest highs and my lowest lows. It was the thing I was most passionate about. It’s who I am.
After thirteen years of being fortunate enough to do what I love, I was recently informed that my doctors have decided that due to my condition, it is no longer safe for me to pursue my competitive swimming career.
I have spent hours thinking about the possibility of this happening. I wondered how I would feel. Would I be resentful, relieved, or a little bit lost? Turns out, I feel a little bit of all of it.
I have been well aware of the fact that the thing that I considered my life’s passion is now something that would put my life in danger. I am resentful toward my disease for taking away something I love. It seems so fitting that I was diagnosed with a disease that makes swimming dangerous after devoting my entire life to it. It’s the sickest irony I’ve ever experienced.
However, it feels like a bit of a relief to know that I have the ability to control this aspect of my life from now on. If I want to go swimming, I can choose when and where. I can go as slow as I want and take the proper precautions to ensure that if something were to happen, someone would be there to save me.
The lost part is the hardest to cope with. A huge part of who I am is gone. When I think about losing my ability to swim, there are a lot of “I can’ts” that come to mind. I’ve had the same goal for thirteen years, which was to lower the time on the clock. It was what pushed me to spend thousands of hours in the pool, year after year.
I no longer have my fun fact.
But after I’m done dwelling on the negative, a lot of positives come to mind. I have an opportunity to redefine who I am. I can devote my newfound free time to other things that I enjoy and accomplish even more. I can find new things that I’m passionate about and I can set new goals.
The best part is, the way swimming has shaped me is still very much part of who I am. I will use the drive I learned in the pool to push myself to improve, even after I feel like I’ve put in everything I had. I will use my resilience to push through the disappointments. I will take the passion and direct it towards something else that I will thoroughly enjoy doing.
It is easy to get caught up in thinking that what you do defines you. Having jobs, enjoying hobbies, and being in relationships is important. But it’s not who you are. Who you are lies in how you treat others, how you deal with what life brings, and what you value most. Nothing can take those things away.