My entire life before university consisted of morning, afternoon, and weekend swim practices, so if you thought your social life was bad in high school, check again. The number of times I said, ‘sorry, I have swim practice’ when friends asked if I wanted to go out, is so great it might not be a real number. But then they would follow my refusal with, ‘But can’t you skip?’ and I would just laugh in their face while wiping the single tear off my cheek, and reply, ‘Oh to be young and naive…’. Then, I would go to practice and die a painful death.
However, the one thing we do not sign up for —but still need to tackle everyday— is the endless dilemma of dry skin and split ends. First off, shout out to Costco for being the only store to sell bottles of Aveeno moisturizer large enough for swimmers. The pain of dry skin paired with everyday practice is NOT something I wish for anyone to experience. Had Henry VIII known about such suffering, I guarantee he would have used it to torture people in the Tower of London. But, Henry VIII has nothing on chlorine’s reign of terror.
Every time I went to a hair salon the comments and recommendations would come flowing in: ‘Do you condition your hair before entering the pool?’, ‘Do you even know what conditioner is?’, ‘Would you like me to give you the damaged hair treatment?’, ‘I have a few products you need to buy,’ ‘Are you okay?’ The perfect medley of pity and concern drenched in their voices offered little besides frustration. Dealing with wet hair after morning swim practice or when you had an event to go to after evening practice was the WORST. Top knots became my involuntary ‘signature look’.
Yet, it’s not the top knots and split ends that make the sport so trying; it’s the practices and meets that make you feel like you’re drowning— mentally and occasionally physically. The 5 AM alarms became a cry to battle that would turn any sane minded person into a psychopath. Then once the battle cries sound, you wait. And wait. And wait some more because for some reason it seems as though they scheduled your events (or the events your coach signed you up for) at the most inconvenient times. Sometimes you even envy your teammates who had back-to-back events, because although they can barely walk from exhaustion, they get to go home early. Tatted by the events that you fought in, you head home, arms numb from the cold and lactic acid the only feasible choice for the rest of the day is a fat nap.
Meets are just one battle in the war though. Practices are where the casualties occur. The taunts from the coach ringing in your ears, ‘this is going to be a FUN set’. No, Steve, the fun was drained out of this sport with the pool water when someone threw up in the pool during practice. Practices last an eternity, but then, the grace of God blesses you and bestows upon your team 15 minutes of starts and turns or taper before a meet —which is the same practice sets but on larger intervals. Every once in a while, divine intervention occurs and you get to play sharks and minnows; the angels sing and the heavens part as everyone sprints from one side of the pool to the other.
Swimming is by far one of the hardest sports in existence and anyone who wants to argue this statement can swim a 400 IM. In what other sport does a millisecond mean the difference between silver or gold (I’m looking at you, Michael!)? In what other sport are you facing downwards looking at the SAME tiles for two or more hours a day?
Swimming is about mentality, and day in and day out swimmers are forced to face and beat their limits, no matter if it is in a meet or during a hard set. We are pushed and pushed until we cannot feel our legs, then we are pushed again. But we sign up for it, year after year because we know that no matter what, our team is our family and swimming is our life.