I call myself a lifelong swimmer. I started at age 6, swam competitively for 16 years all through college, and here I am still swimming in my 30’s. The truth is – I took about a decade off. After college upon entering the Navy, I was very burnt out and my work environment didn’t provide much access to a pool. I’ve alluded to this before, but I really felt like I was done and retired from the sport. I hear this so often with Masters swimmers – they felt they’d never get back in the pool again.
After so many years of commitment and compromise for this sport, I thought I lost my love for it. Really, I was just a fish out of water. It was when my own daughter joined a swim team 4 years ago that I started to get the itch to get back in the pool. Even so, it took me 2 more years to start swimming regularly with a Masters team.
As a competitive swimmer, I had to live and breathe the sport. It was all best times, making cuts, getting into college, etc. The fun often got lost in the pressure. As a Masters swimmer, it’s all about fun again. There was a time in my early swimming career when swimming was ALL fun. I got to socialize at practice, meets were like 3 day sleepovers with your friends, and I was fast at that age – winning was fun. At about age 12, the competition started leveling out. Other swimmers grew and caught up with me, I started doing specialized events at meets instead of just swimming everything, and double practices started. I began to have a love/hate relationship with swimming. I knew I didn’t want to quit, but there were days I would feel so unmotivated and in college, even depressed.
Masters swimming reminds me a lot of those great 12 and under days as an age grouper. I get to go to the pool on my own time now, but I always end up running into friends I’ve met in the water. If another swimmer sees me, they are always friendly and come to chat. I’ve made some great friends this way and now I look forward to going so I can socialize (and exercise). We all tend to have the same story whether that swimmer is my age or 20 years older than me. We swam at one point, either through high school or college, took some time off, and now just do it for fun and to keep in shape.
I remember going to age group meets as a kid and getting to meet and hang out with swimmers from other teams – it was exciting. Now I see my own daughter making friends with not only her teammates but swimmers from other rival teams in our area. It’s so fun to watch. Swimmers all have this amazing connection where we can race each other in a pool, but then lean over the lane line and give a high-five and all go out to eat together at the end of the meet. We used to descend on buffets after a meet like a plague of locusts.
I traveled to my first meet in over a decade in May of this year, and the experience for me was so similar to those age group days. I was there alone (no one else from my team) with my kids and almost immediately some swimmers from another team came and struck up a conversation. I made some fast friends that I still keep in touch with now and will see next week when I travel for my second Masters meet this year. Only this time, I’ve convinced some other swimmers from my area to come along. We may even do a relay…
My point is, sometimes we do something for so long that we just end up going through the motions and forget why we got into it in the first place. Swimming was my first love, and years of repetition nearly drowned that love. In Masters swimming, I’ve rediscovered the fun – making friends (both in the pool and with other swim parents and coaches), getting exercise, and also being able to share something I love with family. Competing again with absolutely no pressure has been fun too.
When I “retired”, I didn’t realize I was washing away a part of myself that was really important to my core being. Masters swimming helped me find my love of swimming again, and I feel healthier now both mentally and physically. If you are a swimmer that has strayed from the pool, I encourage you to find your way back and give it another chance. Besides, Masters swimmers always kick with fins…😉