by Mariana de Paula, Swimming World College Intern
I’m passionate about writing other people’s stories. I’ve found that other people’s journeys makes me understand a lot more about my own. Thus, I believe it’s my turn to share how I became consumed by this sport. Somehow swimming uprooted me to another country, and today I am finishing my junior year at the University of West Florida while doing what I love the most. Now, I was never the fastest swimmer, but I sure have a story.
I was very young when I realized I loved the water. Growing up in a family of swimmers made me more connected to the environment than most of the people at my age. My first memories include going to swim meets every weekend, even though I didn’t understand a thing about them. All I knew was that my brothers were there, so we all went to watch them.
Like every little girl, I loved playing mermaid. But it was not just the fins, the glittery outfits and the beautiful long hair that made me like it. I loved being underwater. When I opened my eyes and all I could see was a deep blue place, I felt powerful. I would feel as if I had discovered a whole new world of my own, where anything could happen. And so my parents taught me how to swim my first strokes and my brothers showed me how to dive in from a block.
Now, I have been a committed swimmer for nearly 12 years and have been to all types of meets. Throughout this journey, there have been many instances where I realized how amazing this “job” is. The times my parents would travel thousands of miles to watch me swim. When I checked into a hotel I could never afford alone. All the trips that were offered to me made me think about how everything was given to me just because someone believed in me. They trusted my potential.
Doing this for love took me to places I never thought I could go. I went from being dismissed from two different teams to making my way to the NCAA Division II Championships. And I couldn’t have learned more from both experiences. For all of those years, I was given what I earned, but not always what I deserved.
My family’s support is, in fact, what brought me to the United States. Have you ever loved someone so much their success becomes more fulfilling than your own? Cheering for my siblings and watching them succeed made me believe that. I guess that’s how you feel when you have kids and watch them grow up.
I had to give up a great scholarship because I was terribly unhappy– I knew that that wasn’t right. My love for the sport was slowly fading away and I needed to restore it. So all I can take from years and years as a swimmer are lessons. I don’t think my sport needs me. Swimming would be just fine with its world record holders and medalists. But I need swimming, because it has made me a better person, and it continues to do so. That’s why I will keep doing it for as long as my body allows.
The biggest lesson of all comes from being in a mixed gender sport. Most of the swim teams I’ve swum on were over 70 percent male. In this sport, women are visibly slower and we all know it. So I learned how to be strong and fight for my spot among the guys. Doing so gives women confidence, discipline, strength and ultimately success. A Fortune article includes research that supports the theory that women who participate in sports in college are more confident and have better chances of employment. In the article Claire Shipman, a broadcast journalist and co-author of “The Confidence Code,” was quoted:
“Something happens when girls play sports — they embody the experience of not just of winning, but the critical experience of losing. It’s that process of carrying on and clearing hurdles that really builds confidence. It’s an incredibly useful proving ground for business and leadership.”
I look at the women around me and notice that they want completely different things and find distinct ways to get them. I don’t give up. It’s just not what I do. I dream and I achieve it.
I’m not sure how it will feel once I stop. They say swimmers never really quit, they always end up involved with water. Doing an open water competition or two, coaching or staying in the stands.
Maybe one day the chlorine smell will go away. My hair will finally be healthy, and my injuries won’t hurt as much. But I know that there is a place in my heart that holds this part of my life, and this piece of me will never be replaced.