Even When the End Comes, Swimming Will Always Be a Part of You

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Even When the End Comes, Swimming Will Always Be a Part of You

In our sport, exits come in waves. On the world stage, announcements of retirements are career-defining moments. After the Olympics, after World Championships, after NCAA meets. The world’s top athletes will finish out their careers on their terms, and their legacies will be sealed by the swimming world, with fans sending messages of congratulations. There may be a sense sadness as admirers realize they will never again watch their favorites, their role models, their prized champions again compete. These are the loud moments in our sport as the old step down to pave the way for whoever comes next.

Just as there are the loud moments, they go hand in hand with the quiet ones. The silent exits come with no career-defining moment, no grand dream realized. Instead, there is simply the end. Sometimes that ending feels logical. It is the end of a high school career, the end of a college career, the end of a post-college career. There is an expectation that it is coming and time for anticipation and planning. While emotional, it makes sense. Maybe there is the promise of future involvement in swimming in a different capacity – coaching or swimming in a Masters program.

So what happens when the ending of a swim career is not logical? It is not anticipated. It is not forced by an external source but instead comes from an internal drive of the swimmer listening to the tiny voice for which they have been trained to shut down. It is the voice that begins to whisper thoughts of doubt, speaks questions you never thought you would ask about your sport. What starts as a whisper will amplify and eventually shout the possibilities of being finished with the sport. The voice, as it screams, becomes harder and harder to ignore. It seeps into a swimmer’s performance, a swimmer’s practice, a swimmer’s life. It becomes a double battle of fighting through the voice mentally and fighting physically through the training. The sport you once loved will become the sport that enslaves you.

This vicious cycle of fighting one’s own reality will continue until one day, the individual will wake up and realize that the thing for which they used to find determination, perseverance, and courage within, the thing which used to give them meaning and purpose in their life, doesn’t anymore. That, perhaps, will be the most lengthy part of their journey into retirement. The acceptance that they may want to be done, followed by the inescapable mess of grief, relief, and so much more in between.

It’s okay to feel a mix of sadness. It’s natural to grieve the death of something you once loved so much. Even when you do accept your feelings, though, it won’t make the moment any easier. What moment, you may ask? The hardest part of a swimmer’s journey is the moment that truly tests a swimmer’s gut instinct, knowledge of self, and courage. It is the action of looking in the mirror and saying: “I don’t want to be a swimmer anymore.”

Too often, people are quick to dismiss those who question their love and decide to take a different path in life. The world of sport comes with judgment, with accusations of weakness and inability to soldier on, but just because one can continue does not mean they should. Instead, we must acknowledge the amount of strength and fearlessness that exists within an athlete to admit such an unimaginable thing has become their reality.

No one may know why these changes occur within a swimmer. Maybe they grew, and as they grew, they changed. Maybe their priorities shifted, and what they wanted out of life did too. Maybe it just wasn’t something they wanted to do anymore. Maybe they got to where they were going in their swimming career and found that the journey was more fruitful than the destination. Some may wonder, but the truth does not matter. Instead, what matters is the current state an athlete finds himself/herself in – in need of help and in a scary new level of mental maturity, acceptance, and reality. Whatever the reason may be that you have come to this realization,  know that it’s okay.

It happened to me. It happens to so many swimmers across the world every year. If you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone. Know that you are validated in feeling the way you do. Do not run from these feelings, but instead take the time to process them, and remember this: Stepping down will not take anything that you have done or anything that you have accomplished. Even if you become a “swammer” sooner than you thought you would, even if your swim career doesn’t end the way you always imagined, you will always have a swimmer’s heart, mind, and soul. You will forever embody the best of our athletes, and a part of you will remain in every teammate you ever had, every coach who had the privilege of working with you, every pool you ever swam in, and for everything you did in the name of our sport.

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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2 years ago

Beautifully done Alyssa!

Eric Lahmy
Eric Lahmy
2 years ago

Murray Rose, the great swimmer of the last century, said: “Life Is Worth Swimming”. He even wrote a story about this.

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