6 Struggles of the Loyal Swimming Spectator

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Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

By Annie Grevers, Swimming World Staff Writer

I wrapped up my own swimming career four years ago in the mystical Omaha waters. I’ve never attended Olympic Trials at a spectator. I’ve grown used to getting flutters in my stomach when NBC Olympic commercials light up the TV before Trials. I know how to warm up, compete, nap, compete again. Swimming in a meet, even a meet as daunting as Olympic Trials, became far more routine for me than spectating at one.

My introduction to the role of spectator and supporter was at the London Olympics. And wow, what a spectating experience it was! But there were several components to spectating which caught me off guard. I instantly had a feeling of guilt for not fully appreciating what my parents had been enduring for years and utter awe for the time and energy they were willing to spend at swim meets.

Parents, friends, and coaches can relate to the struggles of being a spectator. Swimmers, someday you’ll understand. For now, just show your appreciation for those suffering severe bleacher bum to cheer you on. Here are six struggles of the loyal swimming spectator…

1. Surrendering control.

Photo Courtesy: Hayley Good

Photo Courtesy: Hayley Good

I had long been familiar with watching a teammate have a lackluster performance and wishing the results could have been better for them. But in those scenarios, I had my own opportunities to race and bolster the team’s score or attempt to inspire others with my swims. Now, from the stands, all you can do is wriggle in your seat, tap your feet, clap and clench your hands, do any seated voodoo you can to send energy toward the pool. You have no control. You cannot contribute anything but boisterous cheers and odd seated movements to release pent up nerves.

2. The waiting game…

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Photo Courtesy: Heidi Torregroza

Oh, swim spectating is a true test of patience. As a swimmer, you have a meet regimen. Your time is eaten up by your routine: warmup, suit changes, a brief race, cool down, another brief race, cool down, suit change, massage, casual shower, moisturize, change clothes, mosey up to meet with parents and friends. The spectator regimen? Not as packed. We arrive, sit, continue to sit, clap, stand, jump, sit, sit, sit, bathroom/concession break, sit, cheer, celebrate, sit. Let’s just say time goes by faster as a participant.

3. Instantly feeling out of shape.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

As a swimmer, you forget you’re surrounded by the fittest people on planet Earth. As a swimming spectator, you don’t. During all of that seated time, you watch swimmers shake out their chiseled lats and triceps, stretch out their lean physiques, then heave beneath sculpted abs immediately following an all-out effort. And here we spectators sit, munching on kettle corn as our swimmers push themselves to their physical limits. The hotel gym beckons.

4. Wanting more from the audience.

Photo Courtesy: Hayley Good

Photo Courtesy: Hayley Good

I’m not sure if you fellow spectators feel as I do, but I wish swimming audiences were rowdier. The announcers do a fantastic job of reminding us, “Folks, don’t sit on your hands, make some noise,” when Ledecky is on world record pace, but why is that necessary?! I wish crowds were deafening without reminders in a moment like that. I know swimming is lumped together with country club sports so we’re supposed to be classy, sophisticated fans. But we can be classy while still seeping with enthusiasm! Olympic Trials is a step in the right direction. Fans are exhilarated by pyrotechnics, world records, and an Olympic-sized carrot at the end of each lane. I’d love to see swim fans a little less ashamed to make a fool of themselves for the swimmers they love.

5. The exhaustion.

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Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

Swim meet spectating is one of the most draining activities in the world. First, your eyes are focused on a rippling vat of water– it never ceases to move and reflect light — with or without swimmers plowing through it. Watching a swim meet can be as fatiguing on the eyes as watching Transformers 3. Second, you’re vicariously swimming every race. If you’re a former swimmer, this is especially true. You’re taking a final deep breath before they step on the block, tightening up as they take their mark, and visualizing an explosive dive with the sound of the beep. By the time the session has concluded, you’re wondering why they are not offering spectator massages. C’mon, we basically just had the toughest meet lineup imaginable! And then you realize you still need to hit the hotel gym.

6. The separation.

Photo Courtesy:

Photo Courtesy:

All I want to do after my swimmer does something huge is envelope him in a bear hug. But unfortunately, I’m in the stands and it’s frowned upon to jump down onto the pool deck and greet him behind the blocks with a hug. I could do that as a swimmer, so the separation adds an extra test of patience. Procedure: Hold that celebratory hug until we meet up at dinner; hug everyone around you in the stands in the meantime.

Yes, spectating can be a challenging, unsung sporting event itself, but it’s certainly not all bad! The bonds forged through witnessing successes and failures are strong. Since joining the spectator club, I’ve adopted many other parents’ and girlfriends’ swimmers as my own and have so many wonderful people to root for. I sat with distance phenom Connor Jaeger‘s parents at 2013 World Championships in Barcelona. I’d never met Connor before, but at the Team USA banquet afterward I freaked him out by giving him a hug. You get to know families in the stands and feel like you know their swimmers too.

The sea of people beyond the pool are on an emotional rollercoaster. Swimmers, they’re happy to do it for you, but they also deserve some props.

3 comments

  1. avatar
    Dunc1952

    Annie, you are the best ….

  2. avatar
    Sugar Land Swim Mom

    Fantastic read. I appreciate the perspective on why the swimmers don’t get why it’s so hard sometimes. I’m also glad to hear I’m not the only one that feels very close to swimmers that barely know I exist, but I’ve watched their swim journey along side their parents for years.

  3. avatar

    Wonderful article Annie – you did a great job describing the agony and excitement of sports spectating! Blessings to you both!!