Under the water, screams and shouts are muffled. Other people no longer exist because all you can really hear is the bubbles from your own exhales and splashes as your body moves through the water. If you pay close enough attention you can hear your own heartbeat and sometimes it feels like you can even hear your muscles straining.
The first time I raced another girl in a pool I was 10 years old. I probably cannonballed into the water and leisurely floated down the pool as my Dad yelled at me to kick my little legs faster. Swimming competitively in all its miserable ups and downs and it’s heartbreak and victory is something that I stopped doing three years ago. And to be honest it was quite easy for me to decide not to swim in college. I knew pretty early on that I wanted to have a more ‘normal’ college experience. I wanted to be able to focus on accomplishing my academic goals rather than continuing to pursue my swimming ones. But wow I miss it more than I thought I would.
It’s been a long time now since my identity was largely defined by my sport. Now, it’s mostly defined by my majors and what I hope to do with them.
I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I do think it is interesting how much we, as humans, so closely connect the things we do with our identity. Labels and finding ways to define who we are is such a crucial part of this crazy process of life and losing a part of that definition is particularly melancholy.
Swimming entirely shaped my life. It made me boldly unafraid of early morning after early morning (even if I still despise them). It taught me the hard way how to manage anxiety and recover. Best of all it taught me that sinking is what happens before you break through the surface. I trained underneath a retired Navy Seal and he taught us to simply focus on the next step. Climb onto the blocks and focus on having the best dive of your life. Then streamline. Recognize the ache in your lungs, but hold it for just a second longer. Finally you’re allowed to breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe.