I'm a swimmer.
That four syllable phrase may not mean anything to a lot of people, but for the past 16 years, it's been a pillar of my identity. Love it or hate it, I have continually defined myself as a denizen of the pool for a variety of reasons. And as of yesterday, Sunday, Feb. 21, I will never do it ever again.
And that's not a bad thing, necessarily.
Coming up, I was never really that great at swimming, mainly because I was never really that great at anything. I was a weird, introverted kid, and swimming was just a nice after-school activity my mother signed me up for because she was worried my father's obsession with all things nautical would get me dumped into the waters of the Puget Sound one day. But as time went on and my family relocated to Portland, I began to appreciate that swimming could be okay.
From just after school until 7 p.m. every night (and often on mornings and Saturdays), I would be around people who were just a little bit like me. The one negative aspect of swimming is also it's greatest virtue: swimming is a low-impact sport. Coaches don't feel that bad about putting bodies in the water for five hours a day if the need arises because, in theory, you can't hurt yourself that badly swimming. So during the summer, when school won't get in the way, a swim team becomes a circle of homogeneous zombies who are at pools more than they are away from them.
Put simply, swimmers have no lives, because we don't have the time. Don't get me wrong, it's still a privilege to have idle time for athletics (especially for a water sport in a drought), but that doesn't negate the amount of time every day swimmers spend in the pool.
When I came to college in Southern California, I had the swim team billed to me as a "built-in group of friends." Now, having a ton of friends, that sounded pretty awesome to me. And for the most part, it is.
If you see any of the 70-odd people who routinely wear PPS&D gear around campus, be aware that we know or have known every other person who wears that gear just as well as you know your closest friends. We have bathed in the same purifying flames, inside and outside the pool. We've seen each other at our highest, but more importantly, at our lowest.
I'm not sure if I have the same sort of passion writing on swimming from the athletic side, simply because I don't know if constant competition is good for me personally. I notice myself getting more aggressive, quicker to anger, and less empathetic during the peak of the season. Yes, I did get a little better because of the passion I was swept up in, but I'm not my favorite guy when I'm surrounded by that much testosterone. It's one aspect of sports that I'll be glad to get out of my life.
And yet, I don't want to let that undercut the core message here; I will miss the team once swimming wraps up and I head back to the ranch. There's something different about a college team who undertakes this commitment together, especially at a D3 level. The team comes together, binds over the suffering of our completely optional sport, like some ridiculous Dantean scrum.
And while this stupid thing complicates personal and professional relationships and gives a healthy middle finger to petty things like "time management" or "mental health," no one has the time or inclination to ask, "Why the fuck do we do this colossal time suck?"
I still don't know if I have a personal answer to that question at the moment. I know that minor injuries incurred in the sport will accompany my now borderline asthma for a long while yet. And I know that Swim and Dive teams will continue to lure young people into commitments that will challenge their sanity and force them to choose between the things they love and a sport they share nothing but a long personal history with.
And yet, all things considered, swimming's been good to me. I've made friends I intend to keep, and I've learned things I will not forget.
But now, I'm done.