Lifestyle of a Swimmer: The Daunting and Exhilarating Nature of a Swim Meet (Includes Polls)


Lifestyle of a Swimmer: The Daunting and Exhilarating Nature of a Swim Meet

By Pat Hallahan

As you arrive at the pool for meet day, the echoing of the starter’s voice extends to the parking lot: “Take your marks…” The horn goes off and cheering begins. If mentioning this scenario gives you mixed feelings, then you’re certainly a seasoned swimmer. Whether this scene evokes feelings of stress, delight, or exhilaration, we know the perils and triumphs of braving a swim meet. Regardless of level – from age-group to elite – competition elicits emotions.

Some of us experience a pit in the stomach before we race, as we wonder if all of those practices will help us shave a few hundredths off our best time. Racing in a pool is a solitary and moving experience. The moment you hear the beep, you explode off the block. Adrenaline rushes through you as you dive in and start your underwater. You’re in your own world, racing against a few individuals who want to hit that wall before you.

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You focus on Sticking to what you planned for the race: Breathing, kicking, pacing. You’re locked in. Even though you’ve spent countless hours in the pool, racing in a meet feels different. It feels like the finale. Of course, we race frequently during our careers, and the rush becomes part of our aquatic experience. Goal times always linger. While desired times are relative to age and experience level, you always strive for improvement.

How do we prepare for a swim meet? Having the right gear and being prepared mentally and physically is a start. Whether showing up for one leg of a relay or taking part in a three-day meet, everyone has their process. If our pool stay is extended, folding chairs or a tent, extra towels, parkas, sunscreen, speakers, and coolers are the norm. For coaches, you prefer to wear clothes that identify your team as you pace the deck.

Athletes have their go-to items which are obvious: Caps, goggles, and suits. We throw that gear in a backpack. For some, other items are non-negotiable: A portable speaker or a cooler with snacks and drinks. Maybe a blanket. We need these things while relaxing and hanging out.

A timeless experience of a swim meet is what we do during the lulls. Cheering on your teammates. Counting laps for the dreaded long-distance races. Playing cards. Taking a nap. These are options. We also have specific approaches before races. Some need to be alone. Some need to joke around. Some need to focus on their breathing.

When you hit the wall at the end of your race, you’ll look back at the clock, physically exhausted. Win or lose, you’ve accomplished something. There will always be another race. Now, it’s time to warm down and eat. You’ll also reflect on the race. Where can I improve?

While swimming is typically an individual sport, the day has allowed you to connect with those who shared the pool. You started the day together, driven and anxious. While a meet is daunting, you’re stronger for getting through it. For some, the nerves will never go away. But the exhilaration makes it all worthwhile.

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