Is swimming life or is life swimming?

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My parents have always joked I was a fish in my previous life and I don’t doubt them for one minute. This is because of my love of the water. It is no coincidence that my passion is a sport that revolves around the water, swimming. For the past 6 years I have been gliding back and forth across the water clearing my head of the day’s drama and getting excited for the main set. For the past 6 years I have poured my heart, soul, energy and determination into the pool. For the past 6 years I have been working day in and day out for my two minutes of pure bliss; behind the blocks at championships. However, the reward for my hard work is priceless. No words in the world can describe that feeling when you thunder into the wall for the finish and look up at the scoreboard to see you have achieved a best time. Of course, swimming also gives back to you, it whispers subtle teachings from each stroke—butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle—and of course, no one can forget the officials.

The most common stroke in swimming is freestyle. It is very basic and can be learned fairly quickly. However perfecting this stroke takes seasons and seasons of practice and is sometimes never even mastered by swimmers. Because freestyle is the simplest stroke, it also has the most variety. The catch in swimming freestyle is that you have to know how to pace yourself. There are sprint freestyle events, like the 50, 100 and 200 yard freestyle, there are middle distance events like the 500 yard freestyle and then there are the distance freestyle events like the 1000, 1500 and the mile. Each event within the freestyle category requires different race strategies and requires different pacing. Freestyle has taught me that there is more than one way to do things and to step back and assess the situation before I act or make any impulse decisions. I have made mistakes in freestyle events such as sprinting the first 500 of the mile or taking the 100 out too slow. Stepping back and really analyzing the circumstances is really effective and may start off taking more time but ends up saving the most time because you make fewer mistakes.

The second most popular stroke is backstroke. This stroke is more complex then freestyle and is swum on your back. In backstroke it is very important to keep your body in line with your head and to be fairly straight but not stiff. Backstroke also requires you to have fast arm rotation and a strong underwater pull. During my earlier swimming years I was a backstroker and I learned a lot from it such as perfect practice makes perfect. In order to succeed in the end, you have to be putting in good honest work, not “garbage yardage” or “busy work”. To cheat in practice only results in a poor end of season championship meet and all the work gone to waste. Another important lesson I learned from backstroke is to trust. Since you are swimming towards an unforgiving wall you have to trust your body and mind to know when to turn and that you won’t hit that wall. Backstroke has taught me to take a risk at times and just trust that my body or the people around me won’t fail me.

Breaststroke is the hardest stroke to nail hands down. The stroke is all about timing and knowing exactly at which moment to start your kick and throw you arms forward. The timing in breaststroke is often practiced using pacers. Pacers are bottle cap sized devices that provide a constant “tick tick tick tick” for the swimmer to use to know when to start the different parts of the stroke. This stroke has taught me time how important accuracy and time management are. I have learned to be efficient and manage my time so I can fit the rigorous demands of swimming into my academic and family filled schedule.

The final stroke in swimming is butterfly. I look fondly upon this stroke because I am a butterflyer. Some say butterfly is the hardest of the 4 strokes. I beg to differ. I find fly to be amazingly powerful once you find the rhythm. The key in fly is not to lose technique. As a result you must have great endurance to keep swimming race pace and efficiently. Fly has taught me that things don’t come right away and that you have to work continuously towards a goal and not expect it to just appear at championships. My perseverance and earnest desire to excel in the stroke are the reasons why I placed 9th and 11th in the state in the 100 and 200 yard fly at championships this past March. Thanks to butterfly, I have learned that hard work pays off with determination and acceptance of the fact that rewards might not come as quickly as we’d like.

Officials play a very important role in swimming. They are like the judges in a competition. They keep order and they make sure the sport is fair. Sometimes they make unfair calls and disqualify you for minor mistakes which can be devastating to your self esteem and psyche but overall they are fair. The judges have led me to be a stronger, more resilient person, capable of standing on my own two feet in the face of adversity.

When I first started swimming back before I could walk, I never knew that I could learn so much from a sport that requires its athletes to swim seemingly mindlessly back and forth a 25 yard pool repetitively for two hours a day. I never expected the sport to emanate life lessons and character builders. Yet the lessons that have been taught by each stroke, the officials, and the overall sport have shaped the person I am and the person I will become. Whether it is pacing work, perfect practicing, time management, endurance training and maintaining a positive attitude despite my surroundings, I plan to use the teachings of swimming to aid me in leading a successful and fulfilling future.





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