A Universal Experience: The Sports That Led Us…Thankfully…to Swimming

KayleeMcKeown_1876 - swimming

A Universal Experience: The Sports That Led Us … Thankfully … to Swimming

Sometimes I find myself questioning every life decision I have ever made, specifically the decisions pertaining to my sport of choice. Especially when I’m waking up at five in the morning for swim practice. Soccer teams don’t engage in this psychotic behavior. Golf is probably therapeutic. Softball seems like the perfect balance between healthy competition and entertainment. Basketball has pretty cool uniforms!

It’s fascinating, really: Analyzing the exuberant variety of humans that have found themselves committing wholeheartedly to the sport of swimming. It’s an unusual sport, and it takes an unusual person to dedicate a massive chunk of their life to it. And because it is just so gosh darn weird of a sport, it’s easy to assume that it took a ton of different attempts at a ton of other sports before we came across this strange form of competitive aquatic exercise. It’s simply just a part of being a child. Your parents want you to have an extracurricular, especially one that keeps you active, so they sign you up and throw you into every sport imaginable. You attend a few times, decide that you absolutely hate it and would rather eat the vegetables on your dinner plate than ever attend a practice ever again, and then you are quickly thrown into the next sport that holds potential to win you over.

I don’t know about you guys, but good heavens, the list of sports I dipped my toes into before finally sticking to swimming could fill a novel by itself. I enjoyed quite a few of them, don’t get me wrong. But you know that feeling you get when you finally walk into your house after a super long day? That sigh of relief? That “Ahhhh, finally,” moment? That’s how I felt when little 8-year-old me discovered the world of swimming. It felt like coming home.

That’s not what this article is about, though. This article is dedicated to the sports that led us home. The sports we tried out, the ones we absolutely hated, the ones we were terrible at, the ones that were simply just a side hobby. The sports we have to thank for where we are today. And that is, in the water.

Below, you will find a list comprised by yours truly. Maybe we’ve shared similar experiences on our journeys to discovering swimming, or maybe I’m just talking out of my booty on this one. I like to think I’m not the only one that absolutely sucked at every sport known to man before figuring out where my heart truly lied. Enjoy.


Honestly, I think the only reason I picked this one up as a kid was because the prominent color theme was pink. I quickly realized that, not only did ballet = pink, but ballet = itchy tights, itchy tutus, ballerina buns so tight they gave you a world-ending headache, and all of those spins sorta made you dizzy. It wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, “pink galore” and all.


This was the obvious next attempt at a sport, because it was basically ballet without all of the itchy-scratchy stuff. And I was right about that, for a while at least. It was actually awesome. The early stages of gymnastics were basically just recess on the playground with cushions and mats everywhere to protect you from injury. It was a great way to get energy out, I’ll give it that. The thing about gymnastics, though, is that the older you get, and the more serious you take the sport, the more psychotic it gets. I mean, really, it was intense. The higher you climbed the ladder, the more you wanted to come down. Gymnastics is all about perfection, and repetition until you reach it. I don’t know about you guys, but I value the imperfections in life. Tumbling was not end-all, be-all for me. So, out of spite, I got my back-handspring by myself for the first time ever and said, “See. You. Later.” Peace.


Alright, so at this point you’re probably thinking that maybe adding a ball into the mix would fix everything. That’s what we’ve been missing, right? WRONG. SO DEAD WRONG. This was our first mistake guys. Adding a ball into athletic activity is never the answer. Especially a tiny one moving full-force at your face 24/7. It’s super rewarding when you actually hit the ball, but let’s be honest, how often was that? Not very often. One time out of 10, you probably hit the ball and landed a few bases. Maybe even a home run. But those other nine times? Crying bloody murder because the ball hit you in the arm. You were constantly covered in bruises, huh? And dirt? Thank you, next.


So, hear me out. Maybe the issue was the size of the ball! Automatic shift into the world of basketball. I mean, the uniforms were pretty comfortable. Those loose shorts deserve a Grammy. Or an Oscar, or something. Nobel Peace Prize, I don’t care. They’re freaking awesome. But you know what isn’t awesome? AN EVEN LARGER BALL FLYING TOP SPEED AT YOUR FACE. I’m not sure why we ever thought this one would work out. Hand-eye coordination just isn’t our thing, guys. Give it up. Plus the gyms always smelled like sweat. That sucks.


This one. This one is the one we all thought would last forever. It’s such a typical, run-of-the-mill sport. I’m glad it didn’t last forever. For our sake. As a community. Swimming is so much more interesting than the sport that everyone did in seventh grade. But back then, we really thought we had found the one. The smell of grass and the taste of a tangerine from the designated snack parent on a Saturday morning. Nothing could really top that. And I’m not totally sure why this sport ever met its tragic end. Maybe it’s simply because we realized we were better than this. It turned into sitting in the field, playing with dandelions, and we knew there were greater things out there for us. (And boy, we were right).


I, personally, never indulged myself in this sport. But I wanted to throw it in the mix because I find it funny. A bunch of my friends in high school played this sport, so I’m assuming you only picked this one because you wanted to fit in. Conformer. Follower. Congratulations. This one is weird to me, because I … don’t think it’s that hard? I really believe I could slap on a pair of spandex and toss a volleyball around right now and be okay. Not to roast the volleyball players that might be reading this, for whatever reason, but to those that consider this a stepping stone on their journey to swimming, I’m … sorry.

Cross Country/Track

Before I absolutely obliterate this sport and everything it stands for, I must give credit where credit is due. We were so close with this one, guys. So close. Barely missed the mark. If you think about it, this is the land-version of the sport we all know and love. There’s racing, there’s endurance, there’s sprinting. It’s all about competing against yourself, and competing against the clock. I’m sure swimmers and runners have a lot in common, but dear GOD. I ran cross country in the lovely, divine, mountainous state of Virginia and I don’t think I’ve ever hated my life more than the moments I found myself sprinting up a hill and hearing people cheer, “Go! Go! Go!” Like okay, Jesus, I’m GOING. Don’t you think if I could go run up this demonic mountain a little faster, I would? I don’t want to be in this situation anymore than you want to be watching it unfold, but here we are. The shin-splints, the sweating, the puking, the bone aches. It’s like swimming with a side of constant joint pain.

And with this, we finally knew. We knew it was time to return to the swimming lessons we took at the ripe age of five. You might’ve started with summer league swimming. I sure did. Maybe a coach saw your talent, and suggested taking it a bit further. You might’ve accepted the offer, dove into the world of club swimming, and suddenly found yourself setting your alarm for 5 a.m. every day, constantly showing up to school with wet hair and sweatpants.

With this transition came missing out on lots of fun stuff. Maybe your friends wanted to go out to dinner on a random Wednesday night, but you had to politely decline because your coach had just sent out a mass text to the entire swim team informing you that you’ll be needing some rest for the practice he had planned the next day. Maybe you started eating healthier, changing your diet so you could receive the proper fuel to swim faster at that big meet coming up. Suddenly, you had dreams to pursue this sport further. Maybe in college, even. A sport you had never even considered before was taking over your entire life direction.

It started slow, with hour-long summer league practices. And then one day you stopped, took a step back, and really looked at your life. The life that you had wholeheartedly dedicated to swimming, in what felt like the blink-of-an-eye. And as time-consuming, draining, and downright painful it is, it’s a beautiful life.

And you thank your lucky stars for every single stepping stone it took to get there.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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