Guest commentary by Kara Hawking
For me, competitive swimming was not just a sport - it was way of life, a true love, a platform to showcase God-given talent, and even a second family. It was a family and community in which this weirdo kid who smelled like chlorine, had hairy legs, bleached hair, and goggle tan lines learned life's lessons and put those lessons to work.
I learned the value of hard work, dedication and leadership. I learned what it feels like to finally achieve a goal set months prior, then immediately set a new one for a few months in the future - never satisfied, always hungry to swim faster than the last time I touched the water. I even learned - more than a few times - the heartbreak that comes with goals not achieved. I poured my heart and soul in to this sport because it brought me new opportunities, great friendships, and experiences that I will never forget.
For all of these reasons, and for a million more, it saddens me to see the state of affairs that this family finds themselves in.
I was a competitive swimmer for roughly 18 years of my life and have been "retired" for 5 years now. I swam for multiple teams on both the local and national level, and even went on to earn a scholarship at a reputable Division I university. Throughout my career, I swam for nearly 15 different coaches - and those are just the ones I can remember!
As I got older, my commitment to the sport became greater and I found myself spending more time with my swimming family (coaches and teammates) than I did with my own family. I had countless one-on-one goal meetings with all of my coaches, traveled alone with several of my coaches, and even just sat and talked one-on-one about life with a few of them. I experienced athlete-coach relationships that were strained, and others that were not only an asset to my swimming career, but provided direction and support much like a parent.
Some, if not all, of my fondest memories took place on a pool deck standing right next to my favorite coach and teammates, and I take pride in the fact that I dedicated my life to a sport that has given me so much. Swimming was my life, and I loved it.
Like many former swimmers I know, as new allegations and the articles that go with them emerge, I find myself saddened a bit more each day. Increasingly, I find myself compelled to remind everyone that this sport gives better things to its athletes than painful memories and lifelong scars.
We are a family.
We have evident flaws that threaten to scar the legacy of our sport, and we should all be standing up to take notice.
I am only one of thousands of former swimmers who can look back with a smile from ear to ear, but stories like mine are not what will be remembered. Current and former swimmers should focus on being a positive ambassador for our sport that is trying valiantly to weather this storm.