Know Who You Are: Preventing Identity Crisis in Swimmers

Grace Kennedy Thinking Before Race-0020
Photo Courtesy: John Biever / Sports Illustrated

By Jamie Kolar, Swimming World College Intern.

Since the beginning of time, humans have been asking a simple existential question: Who am I? This question can be followed with subsequent questions of what makes me special? What is my purpose? These questions all get down to our deep desire to know who we are and what we are made of.

The answers to these questions are sought out for the duration of a human’s life. Some are lucky and find the answers they are looking for and are content with what they find and stop looking. Others are not so lucky. Only we as individuals can answer this question, and the answer may change with time and experience.

This question is only made more complicated when you are an athlete or a swimmer, specifically. Swimmers typically introduce themselves as such and follow up with what event they swim and leave their introductions at that. Those two aspects being the only ones defining them. Swimming is a huge part of our lives and has helped form who we are but is in no way the only thing that defines us. Placing such a narrow definition on our identity not only inhibits us from finding what makes us who we are but also places all of our worth on one single effort instead of the journey that led to that effort. Times are very important in swimming, but one single time does not define who we are. Instead, try to define yourself in the following ways:

We are persistent.


Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

Yoda once said, “Do or do not – there is no try.” He was right. Swimmers have to get up before every race and face the possibility of failure, whether that is gaining time or just not achieving a specific goal that was set for that race. We have to get on the blocks and accept the possibility of failure and try our best to beat it. However, we do not always win that fight. We taste the sourness of failure and have to do our best to swallow it and get up to try again.

Every time we fall, we have to get back up and try again, sometimes in a matter of minutes if you have another race. And yet we still stand up, dust ourselves off and are back on the blocks. Persistence is the overall quality that lets us get back on the blocks, ready to try again. Swimming lets us harness that quality and develop it to a super competitive level.

We are passionate.

Rhiannan Iffland (R) of Australia and Jacqueline Valente of Brazil congratulate one another during the third stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at Polignano a Mare, Italy on 23 July 2017. // Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool // P-20170723-01483 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to for further information. //

Photo Courtesy: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool

When you do something worthwhile, you put your heart and soul into it. It consumes all of you and then some. Swimming is the kind of thing that demands “and then some.” Swimmers generally love what they do and continue swimming because they are nothing short of addicted to the sport. They pour their heart and souls into their practices and races, which is why it is so emotional and difficult when you have a bad swim.

But our passion is not limited to the pool. Our passion flows outwardly to our coaches, teammates and families. We share so many moments and emotions with them; without them, nothing we do could be possible. They are with us when we are down, when we are up and everything in between. Swimming demands a full heart with pieces of it residing with others outside yourself.

Who are you?

Mia looking away

Photo Courtesy: Jonas Gutzat

These are just some overall characteristics that most swimmers share but are certainly not the end of the list. However, to find the rest of what makes up an individual, you have to be open to the journey and finding yourself along the way. Swimming helps direct the search since it demands so much of who we are, but the answer can only be found in every unique individual.

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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