Set Free

April 3, 2011
It all began when I was six years old. That was my age when I joined the swim team.

Back then, I used to do things other than swim. In fact, swimming used to be the least of my priorities. I was a dancer, I played soccer, and I took piano lessons. At that point, my swimming career was barely more than an afterthought in my busy life.

The transition from well-rounded child to swimmer began when my talent in the water first began to present itself. When I was about nine years old, I was informed by my swim coach that if I wanted to perform to my full potential in the pool, I would have to make some sacrifices. I informed him that I had already been making sacrifices; I had missed countless birthday parties and been forced to turn down numerous sleepover invitations due to the Saturday meet schedule. I soon found, however, out that my coach did not mean simply turning down hanging out with friends; he meant that I was going to have to put swimming at the forefront of my life if I ever wanted to stand a chance in its competitive world.

First, I quit dancing because the dance lessons interfered with weekend swim meets. Then, I stopped playing the piano because I didn’t have time to practice due to my extended swim practices. Finally, when I was thirteen, I terminated my soccer career. This was the hardest decision to make for me; I loved to play soccer. However, I knew that if I wished to be able to swim and compete at an elite level, I would have to start swimming year-round. This meant that I wouldn’t be free to join the summer soccer league that I had enthusiastically been a part of for seven years.

I almost called my swimming career quits right then. But instead, I discontinued my last extracurricular activity that didn’t involve a bathing cap. From that moment on, nothing was holding me back. I had no more “distractions”. I was a complete swimmer, one-hundred percent.

After quitting soccer, I put every bit of myself into swimming. I decided that if the sport was important enough for me to quit every other activity that I loved, it was necessary for me to put everything I had into it. Along with giving up my life outside the pool, I gave up slacking. I gave up making excuses. I did the best that I could every single day.

It was a scary experience, investing myself so completely into something that would never guarantee the results that I wanted. My swimming life got mixed into my home and school life so completely that I lost my grasp on which was which. My everyday mood depended on how well I had swum the day before, my happiness relied heavily on how satisfactorily I had been able to complete the practice sets that day. A single comment from my coach regarding my stroke could send me either into a state of ecstasy or into hysterics.

I wondered over and over again why I put myself through such emotional, mental and physical turmoil. I considered quitting, but the thought of ending my swimming career scared me to death. Swimming was a part of who I was; without it, I believed that I would be worth nothing. When I did not get the results that I wanted during my championship meet when I was fourteen, I fell into a state of depression. I did not understand why I couldn’t achieve the high standards that I had set for myself.

My unhappiness resulted in a vicious cycle. I was miserable and unmotivated, so I was not able to swim well in practice. Because of this, I was not able to swim well at meets. The result of these “failures” was an even deeper state of depression.

When I was fifteen, I was on the verge of suicide. The only reason I lived was to swim, and if I could not swim well, what was the point of living at all? To this day I have no idea whether I would have actually ended my own life had my brother not saved me from myself.

He is six years my junior, and at the time he had just joined the summer soccer league that I had once been a part of. After begging me to help him practice his goalkeeping in the backyard, I finally agreed. I dragged myself out of my dark room into the sunny backyard. My brother kicked the soccer ball toward me ran in front of the goal that he had made using two flowerpots set about ten feet apart from each other. He ordered me to try to score on him. I reluctantly did so, and when my foot came in contact with the ball, something that it had not done in over two years, I swear I heard fireworks. I kicked that ball straight into my brother’s makeshift goal. I did it again and again until he was reduced to tears, but I didn’t care about his feelings at that moment. I was feeling better than I had felt since I had put swimming at the forefront of my life.

That was the day that I quit swimming. It was a frightening decision that came as a shock to everyone, including myself. However, I am positive that I have never made a better choice in all my life. I took up soccer again. Shortly after, I resumed the piano. Although I sometimes miss swimming, I know that I am doing what is right for me. I have taken control of my life, and I’ve never felt better.

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