Identity Crisis: When Our Name Becomes Synonymous with “Swimmer”

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Sarah Lloyd, Swimming World College Intern

From about age 10 on, I introduced myself to everyone I met with some variation of “Hi, I’m Sarah! I’m a swimmer.” For most of my life, I felt this introduction was more than sufficient to give that person a sense of who I was–I devoted all of my time outside of family and school to swimming, after all.

But as I approach my last year of competitive swimming, I’m beginning to feel a crisis of identity. In less than a year I will no longer be a “swimmer” but a “swammer” and, to be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’ve come to terms with the fact that swimming beyond college is just not a feasible thing for me, so this year, I’m going to make a concerted effort to root my identity in things outside of the pool while also remaining firmly planted in the water.

As swimmers, sometimes it can be hard to see our value outside of times and races, but like everyone else in the world, we need to remember that we are multi-faceted beings that contribute more than just our athletic prowess. We don’t have to choose between swimming and other aspects of our lives– we choose both, which might just help those swammer blues once they roll around.

We are family.


Photo Courtesy: Miller Family

While this aspect of our lives is probably the most overlooked, all swimmers are family members first. We all come from a family environment, and while they may be different on the outside, everyone’s family is their first identity. If we stop to remember that we are a son, a daughter, a sister, a brother, etc. we can rest in the fact that there are people who will love us no matter what the outcome of a race is.

We are friends.


Photo Courtesy: Pepe Pont

Like most swimmers, a majority of my friends were, and continue to be, swimmers as well. But I have found it very valuable to find friends outside of the chlorinated bubble in which I live for 20+ hours a week to remind myself that I have value to my peers beyond what I can contribute in championship meet setting. When we begin to prioritize swimming over meaningful friendships, we can grow apart from those friends that could be a huge support system. Stay up a little later with that friend who’s homesick, even if it means dragging a little at your morning workout– you’ll feel more connected and your friend will feel much better.

We are intelligent students.


Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

For many swimmers, there are things outside of the pool that excite us beyond words. For some swimmers, the mechanics behind jet engines drives them into an engineering degree, for others (including myself), a love of art leads to an art history degree. Most of us won’t become professional swimmers, so we use what we study in order to find a meaningful and valuable career in another field. I love that the NCAA prioritizes us as STUDENT-athletes, because it reminds us that even though those workouts are important, what we’re doing in the classroom goes beyond our four years in college. We don’t have to freak out over what we’re going to do after swimming is over because we’re all more than prepared to contribute to society outside of the pool.

We are valuable humans.


Photo Courtesy: Maddie Kyler

This is cheesy, but bear with me. I’ve found that those who pigeon-hole themselves into a specific category, whether its a swimmer refusing to try other events because they like what they swim, or an athlete putting all hopes for a career in their athletic ability, they end up being disappointed at some point. I think the fundamental failure here is the inability to see their value in other aspects of life. When we recognize that we’re valuable just because of who we are, regardless of what times we swim or what school we go to, there’s a relief and a happiness that accompanies it.

We are swimmers, but we’re more than that. So I’ve decided that my new introduction is going to be “Hi, I’m Sarah! I’m a swimmer AND…” Swimming is a part of who I am and that will never change, but it shouldn’t be the only part of my that people see.