I Got it From My Mom: How She Inspires Me to Give Back

Photo Courtesy: Sophia Chiang

By Sophia Chiang, Swimming World College Intern

I started swimming competitively for my local summer swim team at the age of five. My mom likes to joke that’s when she started swimming too. But, to be honest, it’s really not a joke. She may not have been putting in the hours of training, but she was putting in the hours in a different way: driving me to and from practices, meets, and equipment fittings all the while making sure I was eating enough, sleeping enough, and finishing my homework on time. Add on that she actually has a full-time job that is not even related to swimming, and I still can’t fathom how she got (and still gets) it done.

When you think about it, that’s a lot more work than just showing up for swim practice. People wonder where swimmers get our commitment to practice from. A good bit of it may come from coaches who push us to show up, or our own inner ambitions to become the best competitors that we can be, but a lot of it comes from watching our parents commit to our goals, too, and realizing that their sacrifices mean that we need to commit as well. That we’ll leave 110 percent in the pool, every day. That we’ll respect ourselves and our teammates. That we’ll become the kind of athletes that lead by example.

So, yes, I do believe I got it from my mom.

She inspires me to volunteer and give back to this sport that I love so much, and I realize a lot my drive to give back comes from the fact I grew up watching her give back almost every weekend of the swim season for over a decade.

Like most other parents, my mom started volunteering when I first joined the local summer swim team. She marshaled and learned how to time that summer. I didn’t understand her determination to help at the time, although she always maintained how important it was to “do your part” and “give back” to help run the Saturday swim meets that would inspire me to try out for the year-round competitive team.

At seven, I’d get a spot on that team. We knew so little about swimming at the time it’s laughable. But that didn’t stop my mom from learning. She would go on to get certified as an official, first within the YMCA swimming system, then as a USA Swimming official. She went from officiating local level meets to state meets, and then, getting involved with Special Olympics and working as an official at their national-level meet held in New Jersey last summer.

She was, and still is, on the pool decks every weekend (and, since my younger sister is still swimming, will be for the foreseeable future as well). And even though some of her commitments were inconvenient for me — after all, she’s the type of person who volunteers to time/officiate extra sessions her kids aren’t even swimming in — when I think back to all those times I’ve waited several extra hours for her to finish up, I can’t help but feel grateful for having a parent who is so dedicated to a sport she didn’t even have an attachment to before I started.

Because those commitments to those extra sessions speaks of a far deeper commitment: a commitment to me as a swimmer. A commitment of belief that the choice that I made to start this sport means something to her. It means she’s got my back, and while (regrettably) she’s missed some of my races due to this commitment, I realize her willingness to work all these meets speaks of a commitment far deeper than if she sat on the bleachers every meet.

So there’s no question why I don’t hesitate to give back to swimming whenever I can. Spending my high school career coaching Special Olympics swimmers — and this past summer, working on deck with her at their national championships — that was really cool. Or getting to spend an internship developing a program to teach indigenous children in Panama to swim in order to combat high drowning rates — another unbelievable opportunity my mom has helped me with. My mom continually inspires and motivates me to give back, and she’s helped me open doors that I could have never even imagined when I first started swimming.

Grateful is the word that comes to mind.

USA Swimming has launched a campaign to recognize our terrific volunteers all month long! Honor all of the volunteers in your life this March by snapping their photo and posting with the #1VolunTeam on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Tag @usaswimming and @swimmingworldmag too!