To the sport who made me who I am,

It's September and I still think about you. I think about the early mornings riding my bike to get to you. I think about those moments sitting on the bench in the locker room, still half asleep while rubbing sunscreen on the back of my neck. I think about the way I used to stretch my cap over my head, while it pulled out baby hairs here and there. I think about the laughs I had with you, the tears too. The places I would go because of you, near and far. I think about the incredible people I've met because of you, and the life lessons you taught me. I spent my Friday nights, birthdays, and the summers with you. Every break in between the school days, Christmas and Thanksgiving mornings I was with you. You were there for me through everything. You were my home. My safe haven. My happy place.

It's October and I still think about you. I can still see the black line. I know every single crack and missing tile piece. I can still smell the chlorine, in my hair and on my pillow. How it burned my eyes in the summer, and dried up my skin in the winter. That piercing chill still runs up and down my spine, after jumping into a cool pool of blue. The worst days were when the wind came.

I can still feel the sun burning my back, especially my shoulders. It would trace the shape of my suit onto my body, every morning and afternoon. I was always two different colors. I loved my racing stripes and splotches. But now, it's my fingers tracing where the lines used to live. It's strange being one color. The oval on my back has disappeared. I am a zebra without stripes, a giraffe without spots. This single color is new to me. I look into the mirror and feel out of place.

I can still feel my toes cramp up, one over the other. My baby hairs aren't dead anymore, but they still stick straight out like they're trying to escape from my cap. There is a mark on the bridge of my nose, from tightening my goggles so tight my eyes would water. I can still feel my fingers fumbling with the plastic clip and cord on the back of my head, then my cap, then my goggles, then my suit. My pre-race show would conclude with jumping up and down at least five times while shaking my "big goofy hands" as my dad used to call them. I did this every time before my race—I was nervous. But now, I fumble with my pencil before a test, pull my hair tie out of my pony tail, scratch the back of my head, and rub my eyes. The goofy hands still shake.

It's November and I still think about you. I can still feel my guts churning, my abs screaming and my lungs gasping for air. I can still feel my throat burning from the birthday cake Muscle Milk bar I had just thrown up post-main set. You physically destroyed my body. You mentally tortured me if I didn't make the interval. That clock has no mercy. It doesn't hear excuses. But despite the clock, you made me mentally stronger. I was unstoppable. No one and nothing could stop me from pushing off the wall, no matter how short of a time I was on it. I always kept going.

In those moments you are by yourself. You are your own advocate. Ninety percent of the time you are hearing your own voice, and your own thoughts. You're either telling yourself "Just go, go, go" or "Get me the hell out of here." Sometimes you would shut of your mind completely, depending on how hard it hurt. The other ten percent is a mix of your coach screaming at you to keep your head down or kick harder, your mom cheering for you, and your teammates at the other end yelling your name so loud and hard, they might faint. During sets and races you are alone. It's just you and that boring black line, there is no one to talk to. But the best part about those painful moments was always knowing that there was a team of twenty-five right beside me. Every girl feeling the exact same way thinking the exact same thing. We were in it together.

I can still see Alexis and Izzy swimming next to me through my scratched up electric blue goggles. We only communicated through silly faces and O's whenever our heads popped up for a breath. Our team cheer still echoes in my mind. We would sway from side to side back and forth, chanting quietly at first then screaming our hearts out by the end. I still sway the same way. Except this time, it's when I'm waiting for my laundry.

It's December and I still think of you. You've made me smile a million and one times. You've given me people who have changed my life for the better. You've given me something to be proud of. You've taught me how to help myself, and as much as you've broken down my confidence, you've built me right back up. No matter how much you broke me down physically and mentally, you taught me how to keep going. You implanted that desire in me of always wanting to be better, and I thank you for that.

It's a new day and I still think of you. Which is why I will always just keep swimming.


A Forever Indebted Collegiate Swammer