This morning I woke up in my hometown. As I did so many, many mornings in my hometown, I put on a swimsuit and drove over to a local pool, where I worked as a swim instructor and lifeguard for most of high school years. Adult lap swim had started at 5:30, and the odd-shaped pool with no lane lines, no clock, and ancient pull buoys was packed. I might have picked a different place if the times had been better, but I figured I should take a little trip down memory lane and do some swimming there. I don’t think I ever swam any laps there before today, since my club team practiced in the Olympic length pool on the other side of town. Well that, and it’s a lot harder to figure out how many lengths a 100 is when the pool is 35 yards long.
I had a lot of memories at that place to process, too. I just didn’t know it until I got there. I worked my first job there, making about $3.25 an hour to teach kids how to swim. I met my high school boyfriend there, got my first write-up on the job there, peeled out in my Dad’s Corvette in the parking lot, fell off a lifeguard chair and nearly broke my hip, and well… you get the picture. Most of that stuff I hadn’t even thought about until I started swimming this morning. And then I realized how wonderful is was to be back. And swimming in the place that I basically learned how to swim. And just swimming in general. I was filled with gratitude for the sport of swimming and all that it gave me.
Maybe that sounds silly, but I know what Michael Phelps meant when he was being asked about his retirement last night. It’s like you want to leave swimming, but you are pulled to stay. It’s something that will always stay with me, and I know it will always stay with Phelps no matter what he does. Well, swimming, and that cute, goofy grin he has when Andrea Kraemer asks him a dumb question.
There are many gifts swimming has given me over the years, including:
- Time to think. I was a kid who needed a lot of time and space to think about stuff. I am an adult who needs that time too. I can do that while I swim in a way that I can’t anywhere else in my life.
- An insane number sense. I knew fractions and decimals before I was seven because of swimming. I knew how to add them, subtract them, and their visual representations before I had mastered double-digit subtraction. I know this might sound silly, but many adults I work with today have very little number sense, and it really impedes their ability to do well in math. I think swimming with a pace clock really increased math skills. Plus, by the time I was in high school, I could do my math homework in my head during practice. How’s that for efficiency?
- Responsiblity and dedication. Goal setting and fair competition were part of my swimming experience from the beginning. I learned how to figure out what I wanted and what it would take to get there from my coaches and parents. I swam with other friends and acquaintances who had a similar level of commitment as I did. I watched my older sister compete at high levels of competition and succeed. It was a very positive, very encouraging environment.
- Glorious travel experiences. OK, well maybe Cincinnati, Ohio, isn’t on your bucket list, but when you’re ten, it’s pretty darn cool. Plus, we did lots stupid stuff like drink 2 gallon bottles of soda and make up stupid dances to songs a la Team USA’s rendition of “Call Me Maybe“. If you didn’t know, there is a WHOLE LOT of down time between events in a 3 day swim meet.
- Amazing people and a built-in support system. I believe in the value of good coaching and the power of a team. I have had many awesome coaches, and I have learned something from all of them, great and good. Plus, I always had teammates who were there with me, struggling, succeeding, and experiencing life with me. It was an experience that not everyone gets, and it helps continue to define the person that I am. I know I cannot thrive without the support system I have today.
Swimming has given me so many things for which I am grateful. It’s the sport I first started with as a kid, and I imagine I will be that little old lady breaststroking in the lap lanes when I am old. When I decided to lose weight and get in shape, it was the first activity I turned to in order to change my life. I can only hope that my children find something like swimming that they can enjoy for a lifetime. So, thanks swimming, for all you have done for me!