What swimming taught me
By: Joshua A., Connecticut
For approximately 4500 hours, I have swum countless laps back and forth in an enclosed pool. And, in that time, I have learned the secrets that make the survival of a gruesome practice easier; the most efficient way to squeeze into a suit two sizes too small; the skills necessary to decline every social gathering I am invited to, in favor of long hours on deck. However, after 4500 hours, these have not been the lessons that have guided my person. For many, the sport teaches much more than discipline and grace of movement in the water. It leaves the individual with a distinct creed, one which facilitates the maneuver through the obstacles of life. These have been the lessons I have learned throughout my time as a swimmer.
Self accountability nourishes success. In the 200 meter butterfly, the last few strokes of the race are the most painful, yet rewarding moments in the water. Upon completion, one gets to look up at a scoreboard and see his or her worth in pixels on a screen. These are the results of one’s own training. No one else scores the tie-breaking goal, throws the game-winning pass, takes the buzzer-beating shot. Every last drop of effort one puts into practice, day after day, appears on the scoreboard, and few experiences rival the satisfaction, the pleasure of self-accountability.
Tenacity saves us from moments when self accountability cannot. The stagnant years go by, and, perhaps, times do not improve. Often is the case, the swimmer rips off his or her cap and goggles after a race, tossing them behind the blocks in frustration. A tempest of emotions pushes the ship off course, and the tears in one’s eyes cannot be disguised by the water. They run because every day of the past several months has been sacrificed to the attendance of practice, without absence, because familial relationships, friendships, grades, the sleep schedule, they have all been chipped away at, because one has done all that is humanly possible to prepare for two minutes in the water. And, yet, it all gets swept away by a wave of mischance at the last second. But the swimmer picks up his or her cap and goggles after the race. One puts them back on at the next practice and hops into the water once more, ready to tackle the next wave of adversity. Perseverance and the touch of insanity keep the swimmer from retiring the cap and goggles before the journey is over.
The paralysis of analysis is defeated by the hands of tenacity. Coined by the esteemed activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, this phenomenon occurs every time one steps up onto the blocks before a swim. Doubt and panic and fear flood the walls, and the swimmer has sunk before he or she enters the water. Everything that can go wrong does so perfectly within the bounds of the imagination. These thoughts are not conquered within a matter of meets, or months, or seasons. When one learns to subdue the storm and channel it into his or her swim productively, the resistance between the water and the swimmer, between every other facet of life and the swimmer, disappears. This sport challenges the hero with these feelings of anxiety, but it is the swimmer who emerges victorious over the paralysis of analysis.
It took 4500 hours. And there are few medals to wear, few impressive times on the resume of career swims, few accomplishments to brag about. Yet, there is more value to my loathed and beloved sport than the pen can bring to paper. It lies in the rigid strands of chlorinated hair, in the collection of ripped caps, in the history of false starts. Struggle is a necessary step in any coming-of-age story, for it teaches us to deal with the greatest of setbacks and to bask in the slightest of victories. Swimming has exposed the chink in my armor; without it, I would have waged war against the world defenselessly.
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