The Afterlife: When a Swimming Career Comes to An End


The Afterlife: When a Swimming Career Comes to An End

Now. It’s a word, a concept, that many athletes in general, but swimmers especially, understand well. Being present in their training, honing not only their bodies but also their minds, to be the best and most sharp that they can be. Racing a meet not only physically but mentally. Learning to let go of the voices of doubt, drowning them, and instead only listen to and win on instinct. In order to succeed, a swimmer must live in the moment.

Perhaps it is because of this constant minute-to-minute way of thinking, this need to only focus on the task at hand, or maybe it is because of the emotion associated with it, or the inability to comprehend what will inevitably happen, but something keeps swimmers from understanding the opposite of now – after.

After. After the final meet, the final swim, the final race. When the quiet surrounds you, and you hang up your goggles for the last time, you’ll probably be asking yourself a single question – what now?

Usually, the end of a swimming career, whether one knows it or not, comes with a sort of identity crisis. Your life has become that of a competitive swimmer. You’ve eaten, breathed, and slept swimming for so long you can’t remember your life without that rhythm, that daily pattern. You’ve settled into spending as much time with your coaches and teammates as your parents, and probably more time with the former than the latter some days. You’ve become used to the constantly wet hair that never seems to dry, the Eau de chlorine that seems to follow you everywhere, and your wardrobe has become mainly team apparel and swim-themed t-hirts and sweatshirts.

When all of those layers are stripped away, it leaves a vulnerability and uncertainty that most swimmers struggle with. Questions of “who am I without swimming?” and “will my life ever feel the way it was before?” will swirl about in their heads. Lifestyle adjustments of seeing teammates/best friends less and having a more unstructured day filled with more free time will sound like a blessing but become dread as retired swimmers realize this is what they face. Appetites will change, body image may change due to a change in exercise regiment, and eating habits will also need to change. So much hits a retired swimmer at once, and many are utterly unprepared for this devastating shot because even though they’ve spent their entire lives training to handle pressure-filled situations, it never could have prepared them for the confusing reality of the end of their world as they knew it.

Yet under this whirlwind of new territory and overwhelming emotion, a seed of opportunity and excitement will be planted. The capability to take charge of their own lives will no doubt become appealing over time. It could take weeks, months, or sometimes even years, but the day will come when a competitive swimmer learns that just because their time in the pool is done doesn’t mean everything is done. Rather, it is instead the beginning of their time outside the pool, and figuring out who the rest of them are. There’s room in their heart to love and to concentrate on new hobbies and new jobs. There’s an opportunity to meet new friends and pursue new fulfillment in their lives.

As with any separation, it will come in waves. Some days it may feel easy to leave the memories in the past and embrace this new start where on others those memories will suffocate you with a whole new realm of emotions. All of it is important to acknowledge and feel in time, but it is also important to not let it overtake your newfound life. Instead, you must take it, run with it, and make it into whatever it is that you desire. It may be your last swim, but it won’t be the last minestone you hit.

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