I have decided to share one of the best things that ever happened to me. Swimming. It became a huge part of my life and it helped to shape me into the person I am now. I was described as a fish. Once I learned how to swim, I never wanted to leave the water. Most kids would scream getting into the water but then there was me who would scream getting out of the water. I remember some of my early trips to local pools with my grandma and my mom. Later, my sisters would tag along and we would play with mermaid Barbie's. We would also play restaurant and we would be out of literally everything. These trips only furthered my interest in the sport but gave the foundations I needed to grow. I might not have known that at the time, but they were.
When I was in third grade, there was a flyer for the swim team at the YMCA. I had taken swim lessons there before but now I wanted to try the team. I wanted to be one of those who got to swim all the time. I never wanted to stop. I went to the first practice and saw just how tough it was going to be. I had to start with two laps right in a row. For a nine-year-old, this was a daunting task. My coaches helped me a lot especially since this was my first practice ever. Coach G and Coach Sarah would follow me through my early years of swimming. They helped me improve my technique and work on what they could to help me improve my times. The coaching staff would change over the years, but those basics would always be there.
As I got older, I ventured on to summer teams and small clinics to help improve my skills and abilities. But going back and forth between different teams allowed me to make all kinds of friends. I had some on my home team and I had friends on my summer team. We succeeded together, we suffered through practices together, we laughed, we cried, we sweated together. But most importantly we had each other's backs. What would eventually happen would be getting to swim with the same people throughout different stages in life. Kids I got to swim with in third grade were the same kids I swam with in high school. It was awesome to see how our friendships stayed the same and how they grew over the years. I felt like I could be friends with anyone for the most part. We all can from different backgrounds and many of us didn't live near each other, especially those on my summer team, but I was able to maintain those relationships throughout high school and some even now through college.
Probably the most pivotal years of swimming came during high school. The team went through many changes including coaching staff changes and swimmers graduating. My freshmen year, one of my best friends who had never swum on a team before decided to join. I was so excited because while she was not a lifelong swimmer like many others she was able to improve her technique and her times over four years. She never quit, she never gave up, she never thought something was too hard. She would become my dryland buddy (for non-swimmers this would just be a regular workout in the gym or training besides whatever your sport is.) That same year, I lost an amazing coach due to the climate of the team at the time. She loved her swimmers and divers. She was very inclusive and protective, but she pushed us hard to help us see what we were capable of. Due to circumstances at the time, she had to leave the team but I never forgot her work ethic and I strive to be even just a little bit like her.
By the start of my sophomore year, we had a new head coach and staff. What I didn't know at the time was he would start to show us and our community the potential of the team. He was willing to talk to you, answer questions, goof around and laugh with you. Swimming was his life and you were a part of that. He made sure he was doing what he needed in order to make sure you would succeed. Did the team have their good days and bad days? Absolutely. But we only grew from our mistakes through his guidance. I learned a lot that year. I gained a better work ethic. I learned how to get through a tough practice and still keep going when my body wanted to stop. I learned what it meant to be a better teammate. I made new friendships with both swimmers and coaches. What was great about our coaches was that they could be your friend but they would also get serious to teach you what you needed. The team needed to turn around from the year prior and this coaching staff did just that.
I continued to succeed. By the start of my senior year, I had gone to districts all three years, swimming in individual and group events. I was strongest in the 200-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke. I was a part of different relay teams including the 200-yard medley relay and the 400-yard freestyle relay. These were my events and I loved every little part of them. But there was something coming that I couldn't begin to think of and it completely changed how I thought my senior year would go.
We had pre-season practices from about September to mid-November. The regular season started in mid-November and go through about the end of February. One day in early December, we had started practice with a relatively easy 30-minute warmup. I was finishing the last few laps, I noticed a sharp pain that felt like it wrapped around my body. I got out of the water and went into the locker room, confused as to what was happening. I described the pain as taking a belt around your waist and pulling it as tight as you can. I probably stayed in the locker trying to move for about 30 minutes until another girl came in asked me what was wrong. I finally worked up the courage to walk out to my coach and tell him what was happening.
I am never the one to not be swimming. I was in so much pain that it hurt just to move or breathe for that matter. The way I was holding myself scared my friend because she thought my appendix burst. Which was not the case. What we eventually figured out was it was a core injury. I didn't think that could happen. It was just so weird and random. It came out of nowhere and this sharp pain had never happened before. I used to say that I tore my core which was just an easier way of explaining to people what was going on. You don't realize how much you use your core for until its "torn". It would just throb in pain during every little motion from getting out of bed to getting books from my locker even while I was driving. At one point, I started to feel better and I thought I could swim in an upcoming meet. I had to swim the 200 freestyle. Bad decision. I was ok-ish for the first 100 yards but at the middle turn, it felt like my stomach sank and a rush of pain just took over. At the end of the race, it took everything I had to just get out of the pool. My dad used to say that I should swim so hard that I needed him to come down and help me out of the pool. Yeah, this gave new meaning to that phrase.
From then on, I was on the bench or in this case on the deck, recovering. I couldn't do anything and I was bored out of my mind. And this set my season back but what came out of it was worth the pain. Eventually, I got back in the pool and strengthened myself as best I could. There was always this goal of never having to swim in the last chance meet. Because it was your last chance to qualify for districts. But that season, I needed every opportunity I could get. I was nervous and excited. I felt like I had never kicked that hard before or that my arms had never moved so fast. I remember seeing multiple members of my team and my coach standing at one end of the pool, screaming cheers to keep me going. My head coach stood on the side of the pool keeping me on track throughout the race but eventually, he just started screaming too. I hit the pad and looked up at the clock. I had made the time. I took my hand and punched the water, giving a signal to my parents and the team to show I had made it. It was the greatest feeling to know that even the weirdest injury couldn't stop me from getting where I wanted to go.
A few weeks later, we had the district meet. I swam in my multiple events the first day and but my favorite event was on day two. I remember going up to the blocks and right before my coach saying to me, "Have fun." That was all he needed to say. He knew what had happened this year and he knew this was my last race. This was my last race ever. And it was the best. I didn't lose time and I actually gained three seconds but I didn't care. I swam it to the best of my ability and that's all that mattered.
I guess I wanted to share my story because swimming was a huge part of my life. I miss it a lot. Now I am a lifeguard and I teach little kids how to swim. I like doing those things but I miss the excitement of a swim meet and the tough practices. I didn't miss the practices at the time, trust me. But there is something to be said about not know what you miss until its gone. But swimming allowed me to grow. It allowed to me make friends and be a mentor to younger swimmers. I still have many relationships from that time and I get to watch some of those younger swimmers come up through my high school and into college. This is also I thank you to my family for their advice, support, and love. But this is also a thank you to my high school coach. He was a huge part of my career. He is an amazing coach and friend. I could not have gotten to the end without him. I had an amazing career as a competitive swimmer. Now I can go back to just relaxing in the pool.
If I want too, that is.