Nothing To Fear

Photo Courtesy: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

By Megan Shaffer, Swimming World College Intern.

What is it like to fear something as a swimmer?

Fear is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat,” on

Swimming causes pain. Shoulders ache, muscles rip, your body tires. Long sets leave lead arms and stiff legs. Your lungs constrict. They are on fire, but you have to keep going. You have to do it for yourself, for the person ahead of you, the person behind you, for the people in the other lanes, for your coach pushing you until you feel as if you cannot take one more stoke without drowning.

Some swimmers fear this feeling. Some have only felt it a few times in races and when practices get really hard. Some feel it every practice. Some don’t feel it at all. It’s a fleeting moment; the pain. It comes with every stroke, and sometimes it doesn’t fade. But after ice (lots of ice), it gets better. And your muscles, they get used to it. They take it. They take everything you put them through.

Some fear the pain. Some fear discovering their own body’s limits.

penny-oleksiak, candian-trials-2017-start

Photo Courtesy: Kevin Light/Swimming Canada

Winning is not everything. Podiums are only a few feet off the ground. Medals have more merit to you than they have in life. Times are simply milliseconds making up seconds, seconds making up minutes and then some.

It’s a moment, one single moment, that you look up and see the results.

And it’s great. It’s accomplishing everything you’ve wanted. It’s the hard work paying off, the training working, and your reason for putting yourself through the training wringer.

But what if that doesn’t happen? You don’t get that time. Was your training not enough? Were you not good enough?

The fear stems out of the ‘what ifs.’ How can you get validation for doing something if it never seems to pay off? Why are you doing this to yourself? Is it all worth it?

The toughest of swimmers face this head on. They take that fear, bottle it up, push it deep inside of them and use it to continue to push on. They take the nervousness and use it to their advantage– morphing it into adrenaline and endorphins. Those are the swimmers who have one bad race, but do not let it affect the rest of their meet. They take the fear of letting the team and their coaches down and brush it off.

Those are the swimmers who take their fear and make productive use of it.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

A swimmer is built in the water. Essentially, swimming is going back and forth in water in a giant hole in the ground. It’s making a series of motion that propels one forward. And it’s a whole lot of staring at the bottom of the pool or ceiling. But a swimmer also gets better out of the water.

The best swimmer develops a strong mindset– a mindset that can take failure and turn it the other way. It’s the kind of mindset that takes the fear of losing and pretends it doesn’t exist. These swimmers can take what their coach gives them without question and without complaining. They can conquer the hardest of sets because they simply think they can. They get the times they’ve worked for all season by failing and bettering themselves because of their failures.  They are the kind of swimmers that hurt, but you can’t tell.

Every swimmer has their fears. The best ones, though, don’t drown in their fear.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.