To my fellow swimmer,

Welcome to one of the most difficult things you will ever do. I know you probably aren't thinking that right now, especially since your cap is on sideways. Your goggles are probably pink and see-through. You are happy doing your 25s and goofing off with your best friends at practice.

What you don't know in that moment is that this sport will one day become a lifestyle. Eventually, your world will revolve around the pool. Your alarm clock will be set at 5am every morning to get up for your first practice. Your muscles will continuously be aching. You will acquire the feeling of being constantly hungry. Your hair will always be wet. Your eyes will have permanent goggle marks around them. Your skin will never stop itching from all the chlorine. You will give up your Friday nights and sleeping in on Saturday mornings. But here's the biggest thing you don't know: you will fall in love with it.

Swimming will steal your heart. You will be in a love/hate relationship with it. One day, you'll get frustrated at the fact your coach is making you swim in 50-degree weather for morning practice. The next day you'll be laughing with your friends telling them stories between sets. One day, you'll bawl your eyes out either because you didn't qualify for something you worked your butt off for, or because you finally got the time you wanted. One day, you will be working on flip turns and 25s, the next you'll be doing 10 200s for time. One day, you'll get frustrated with yourself for not making the 20 50s underwater and keeping up with your teammates. The next day, you'll be leading the lane.

You'll learn that you have never despised and appreciated someone more than your coach. You will learn that he/she cares about your performance more than you ever will. He or she will take you under their wing and believe in you in times when you don't want to believe in yourself. If there's one thing I can say about a good coach, it is to always trust them. They know what's best for you more than you do.

What you don't know is that standing on the blocks will one day give you the biggest rush in your life. I know right now standing on those blocks feels like you're 20 feet up in the air. It's scary. But here's the thing: after you belly smack a handful of times, you'll get it right. No one has ever perfectly done something the first time they try it. The sport will keep calling you back up on to those blocks and you will be proud of all the time and effort you have put into perfecting that start. One day you will be standing on those blocks and all of the years of training for that one moment will pay off. You don't know that now, but one day, you will.

What you don't know is that you will never be able to eat as much as you can when you are swimming. Enjoy it while it lasts because you cannot continue to consume an average of 10,000 calories when you're not doing two-a-day practices. Yes, food will become your best friend.

One day, you will realize that of the best feelings you will ever experience is when you break the surface during your race. When you're in the water all is silent. As soon as you break the surface reality sets in and it's time to apply ever you have ever learned. You hear your coaches yelling at you from the side of the pool, teammates screaming behind the lane and family members rooting from the stands. One thing you will never come to understand is how when they cheer louder, you will always swim faster.

Oh, there's another thing. You will never tell your parents thank you enough for everything they will do for you. They will sit through meets that last anywhere from two to eight hours, all to see you swim a race less than a minute long. They will always be there with dinner before and after practice (yes, you will eat two dinners). They will be the ones driving you to and from practice throughout the years. They're the ones who signed you up for it in the first place. They will always be your biggest fans and number one supporter. They're the ones who have been there from the start.

Eventually, you will learn to appreciate all the times you get to shave your legs and deal with having the hairiest legs in all of school. Your coaches will tell you it's to create drag, but reality its so that it keeps boyfriends away and doesn't distract you from school work or practice.

If there's one last piece of advice I can give you, it's to swim for this little girl who is behind those goggles. Remember the reason you fell in love with swimming. Remember how she wants to go to the Olympics and never let that dream die. Remember it isn't just sport, but a lifestyle. You will never know how much it impacts your life until it's over. Do you know why they call it 'retiring' when you give up the swimming? Because you are starting a whole new life without swimming at the center of it. It will be the hardest breakup you will ever go through. At times you will question your sanity for wanting to participate in such a sport, but enjoy it along the way. Get the most out of it that you possibly can. I promise that one day you will miss it more than you will ever imagine.

Sincerely,

A Retired Swimmer