I’m poolside lining up behind the blocks when I noticed one of my competitors staring at me. He was a huge kid, almost twice my size, with rippling muscles that bulged through his shirt and thick coiled veins snaking up his arms. He kept staring straight at me never looking away and despite my wavering confidence I stared right back at him into his cold, hard eyes. I knew he was trying to get into my head so I took a deep breath and shook it off. I relaxed my muscles and focused on the race ahead. My heart was throbbing from anticipation and I ran through everything my coach had told me to focus on.
“Swimmers step up,” yelled the referee. “Take your mark… BEEP!”
As soon as I heard the whistle I was off. I dug my feet into the sandpapery block and thrust my arms forward. The perfect serene water was soon a mass of bubbles and I could feel the water engulf me. Soon enough I hit the surface again and I initiated my stroke trying to be as smooth and as long as possible. I had shaved my body and wore a drag suit for warm-up and in time I began to feel the benefits. My body skimmed across the water with little resistance as if I had become a fish. Yet, my competitor remained a steady distance ahead of me. At first every pull I took was powerful and strong; the pressure of the water up against my arms was nothing and every breath I took flowed through my body, renewing vigor to my arms and legs. But as I neared the end of the race my body no longer felt unstoppable, rather my lungs burned tightening up my chest and lactic acid filled my limbs as excruciating pain settled in. My arms felt stiff and sluggish as if it had been turned to lead but I continued to pull with everything I had. The water pressure building against my arms only increased as if I was lifting weights but every rep I did extra weights were added. I grinded my teeth together attempting to ignore the screaming pain in every muscle fiber in my body and slowly I closed the gap between me and first place.
I can understand when football players or basketball players talk about the difficulty of their practices but my flaring temper will always remain when they decide to criticize swimming. The frustration I feel can only be shared with my fellow swimmers because they are the only ones who have gone through the same experiences I have. Though I will try to explain, a non-swimmer will never truly understand “swimming” until they have been where swimmers have been. Swimming takes up an enormous chunk out of my day and even affects the time when I’m not at practice. Most swim teams, including mine, have practices 7 times a week and attending at least 6 practices a week is mandatory. Swimming is also a year round sport meaning we have no off days or off season. While most athletes rest up during Spring Break or Christmas break our practices are only enforced. Simply speaking while many people are stuffing their faces, I’m at the pool at 5am in the morning training to get better. When practice is over I am exhausted but I am haunted by the idea that I would only end up back at the pool at 3pm. My coach decides since we are on break that practice difficulty will be raised and now there will be 14 practices a week. Every practice is 2 hours long and we are expected to push our limits during practice. I will admit to myself there were constant times that I lost focus during practice and contemplate “why am I doing this to myself.” During practice coach designs sets to simulate the pain in a race and when we reach our limit to keep pushing forward making pain a recurrent feeling. Though I will forever hate these horrendous practices I am grateful towards my coach. Everything I learned will manifest in actual swim meets and by then I will be prepared to face the pain.
Basically what I am trying to say is that I hope that people showed more respect towards swimming and appreciate it as the sport it is. Swimming is a difficult and underappreciated sport to be successful in.