Holding On

By
I am every inch a swimmer.

You can see it in the bulky swim bag I carry every day, the logos on all the sweatshirts I own, in the pictures that fill my scrapbooks. There's evidence in the posters splayed across my bedroom walls and the trophies cluttering my bookshelf, even from the smell of chlorine I can't seem to wash off my skin or out of my hair.

And thus, I am subject to every aquatic cliche in the book. I know what it's like to be at practice at 5 am, go to school at be back at 4:30 pm for more. I've experienced summers where training 11 times in a week was normal, and every day I swim five miles or more in hopes of shaving tenths of a second off of my times at a few key meets per year.

I spend more time with my coach than with my parents, and long ago began considering my teammates siblings. You probably think we're all crazy, and we'd be the first to agree with you.

Swimmers don't get recognized at school like football players or basketball players because the truth is, natatoriums are much less spectator-friendly than stadiums or gyms. It's hard to develop an interest in the sport by watching ESPN, because even national championships aren't broadcast. There aren't lucrative professional contracts to work toward, and other than a few elite swimmers who sign sponsorship deals with Speedo or Nike, swimming isn't an ideal way to get rich and certainly not to get famous.

Swimmers don't do it for the glory.

They do it for the satisfaction they get from knowing their hard work paid off, the incredible bond they create with teammates who understand them better than anyone else, and an inexplicable love for a sport that tests their absolute physical limits time and time again. It's hard to imagine what it would be like to swim if they ever lost that love.

Recently, I've gone into practice searching for the familiar thrill of pushing myself beyond what I used to think was possible. There's an exhausted exhilaration to be felt at the end of hard sets, and a certain sense of pride. But lately, the exhilaration is gone, and I'm left only with exhaustion.

At meets my times are much slower than those of last season, and my coach and teammates have blamed it on fatigue from hard practices, changes in diet, sleep, and class work, a need to "get tough". There are a million possible explanations and even more excuses. And at the back of my mind lurks even the possibility of a horror in and out of swimming circles: burning out.

Suddenly I'm faced with a question I thought I could put off for much longer: what is my life without swimming? Who are you when you lose the thing that has defined you for all of your life?

This is not to say my swimming career is decisively over. Far from being the beginning of a downward spiral, it could simply be a bump in the road, and perhaps I will make the conscious decision of which it will be.

When it comes down to it, I think I already know I'm not going anywhere. I'm too scared that if I let go of swimming, I won't recognize what's left.





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