I’m Not Dropping Time Anymore, and That’s Okay

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Photo Courtesy: J.D. Lasica

By Sophia Chiang, Swimming World College Intern

You could argue that swimming is a time-based sport. After all, everything from practice sets to meet cuts are based around the clock. We race against ourselves, but we also race against time. While we’re told the race against ourselves is the more important of the two, it’s hard to block out the omnipresence of the clock.

I love racing. I love the feeling of best times. I love feeling fast in the pool, and utilizing that burst of speed at that perfect moment to out touch the swimmer next to you. I fell in love with that at the first time I won my heat at a summer swim meet at the age of eight, when I touched the wall a body length ahead of the heat and was so shocked that I beat everybody else a photographer captured the moment of me with my mouth hanging open in disbelief. I still have that photo framed in my kitchen at home.

I wanted that feeling again. In fact, I’ve spent the past decade chasing it. But, this year, I’ve given that dream up.

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Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

It’s important to differentiate the dream of dropping time with the dream of swimming competitively. While they overlap at times, they’re certainly not the same thing. I still train five to six days any given week at my university, but I don’t drop time anymore. And I’ve had to accept that it’s okay.

There isn’t a day I regret the choice I made with my school. I know my university is right for me academically, which, in my mind, was the most important thing. I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had here and I love the campus and student life. I love my university swim team, but it’s certainly a departure from my club team at home. By that, I mean that practices are a lot easier and shorter in yardage and at university, I haven’t been as focused on swimming as I was in high school.

My freshman year through midway of my junior year of high school, I was positive I was going to a Division I school. Swimming in college wasn’t optional, and swimming at any school that wasn’t the kind of school where I couldn’t get NCAA cuts at definitely wasn’t. I dreamed of NCAA titles (let’s be honest, who doesn’t?), and I put in the kind of work to get there: doubling most days, and supplementing swim sessions with weight sessions, running in my free time, visiting nutrition specialists, and talking to stroke experts. Swimming consumed me.

I can’t pinpoint the moment when I decided to diverge from this path. But I do remember my club coaching looking at me point blank and saying “You don’t need to swim at school” after looking at my grades and test scores. I remember being unbelievably unsettled and upset leaving that meeting with him, wondering exactly what that meant. I don’t need to swim at school? But after all that hard work and dedication, how is not swimming at college optional?

But my coach’s words did become reality. I still swim at school. I get to compete at national level meets on a bi-annual basis along with a series of dual meets and regional level meets. I still get the awesome camaraderie that comes with being on a close-knit team along with the feeling of racing in the pool. But the one caveat is that I don’t drop any time. It’s not because I’m plateaued, or anything like that. I’m just simply not putting in the time, nor the effort, to do so anymore.

You know what? I’m fine with it.

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Photo Courtesy: Andreas Roestenberg

I’ve learned to understand and appreciate the sport in a far deeper, more fundamental and mature way. I view it from a new perspective, rather than simply from one of a kid who is always looking to that next cut or time drop. Don’t get me wrong, I believe times are extremely important for self-improvement in swimming. But now, I’ve learned that they’re not everything.

I’ve learned that more than best times, swimming is about that cool rush of water as your body glides through the pool, doing what it does best after years of training almost on autopilot. That feeling of keeping up with your training partner in practice in a beautifully synchronized dance of clockwork. It’s that gracious and wonderfully supportive handshake of appreciation you share with the person in the lane next to you after a brutal race. It’s the support, cheers, and hugs from your teammates after said race. It’s the bleary eyes and wet hair you have leaving a Sunday morning practice. It’s driving home from practice on a cold Monday morning and getting to watch the most beautiful sunrise. It’s so much more than just a best time. Swimming encompasses so many beautiful moments, and beautiful feelings, and when you singularly are focused on a best time, you miss out on those things.

Some still need to keep their eyes on the clock. They have goals and dreams and ambitions, and I wish them the best. But I also hope that someday, when they’ve completed that phase of their swimming careers, they take the time to sit back and see these beautiful things about this beautiful sport we (sometimes) love to hate so much.

I know that’s what I plan on doing.

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Lori Carena
7 years ago

and times can increase and that may still be okay.

Tyler Yates
7 years ago

But it doesn’t mean you can’t or that you should give up 🙂

Leonardo della Maga
7 years ago

“Swimming is about that cool rush of water as your body glides through the pool”: I like that! It’s because of that blissful feeling that I still train three times a week at almost 57. No master races, just the pleasure of it.

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