The End of a Career: When That Final Race Looms

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The End – When the Final Race Looms

“Step up.”

“Take your mark.”


Between practices and meets, practically every swimmer grows up having these three phrases ingrained into their heads. We condition ourselves in preparation of hearing the horn of a starting system beginning our race. Age groups. YMCAs. Sectionals. NCAAs. Each race we participate in can carry us one step closer to hitting our cuts, achieving our goal times, and taking the races we yearn to win. It is our life for years, and then it isn’t.

The Last Season

While we leave the sport at various times, for many swimmers, careers end after a “senior” season, whether at the end of high school or college. We spend the entire season preparing, or avoiding the idea, of what will eventually be the final race. It can bring on a range of emotions. Some swimmers yearn for the day their careers are over, creating countdowns in their lockers and waiting anxiously for the last swim to be done. Others dread it, lamenting the idea of a life without the drive, stability, and excitement that comes with being a committed swimmer.

If you are like me, you might have tried avoiding the idea of thinking about the last race. I would tell myself, “Final swim? Never!”, even when I knew my last race was looming. Regardless of the coping method, the finality of a senior season of swimming is a meaningful time, a time that I personally spent much time mulling over before and after my time as a swimmer ended, and something that might be difficult to adjust to. As a recent college graduate and new “swammer,” here are some of the mental approaches that helped my teammates and I through our final seasons.

Leave yourself with no room for regret

“What if?” is the worst question one can ask himself/herself after his/her time in swimming is over. “What if I had trained harder?” “What if I had not gotten sick that one time?” “What if I picked this event over the other?” After years being taxed by the rigors of being a swimmer, having the conviction and dedication to ‘leave it all in the pool’ can be a very difficult prospect. Whether it is making cuts, scoring for your team, or simply enjoying the experience, take time to think about what you are looking to accomplish in your final season. This could be in the form of goals, expectations, or simply ideas of what you envision your last moments in swimming will look like.

Enjoy the ride

This is a common theme in people’s late teenage years and early twenties, but as long as you can rest assured that you are giving swimming the best effort you can, it is not productive to spend time being anxious over the sport. Further, swimming should be a source of happiness, an escape from reality, a game to play, time well spent with friends, etc. Part of succeeding prior to the final swim is fueled by being happy about what you are participating in, so it is important to take this one final season to enjoy your time in swimming. When “swammer” life begins, it will be your memories of swimming that remain the strongest, and what better way to end your time in swimming than by making more fond memories?

“Don’t cry that it is over, be happy that it happened”

This quote drove me through my senior year of college in swimming. Instead of thinking about my senior year as a series of “lasts,” I used the moments to appreciate the wonderful time that I had spent in the sport and reflected on this time as a swimmer. To tie this point to the last, I set out to try my hardest to enjoy what was left of my time in swimming and be happy in the routine I would only have for so much longer. This approach beat lamenting that it was coming to an end. Consequently, my results in swimming were quite correlated. At my senior meet (final home dual meet), I was able to keep strong and enjoy the meet and had my finest dual meet as a college swimmer. At my conference championships, I was able to enjoy the meet I was having for three-quarters it and performed fantastically. However, on the final night, I let the “last swim” emotions get to me and I did not perform to the standard I expected in my individual event that night.

The final swim can bring a flurry of emotions and excitement, but as a team captain of mine taught me, enjoying the time left radiates brightly. In thinking about that final swim, if I can sum it all up, the best thing to do is channel as much positivity as possible and with that, success will come.

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Anthony Thompson
Anthony Thompson
4 years ago

Finishing an age group, high school or college career of swimming is not the last opportunity to compete. As soon as you turn 18, you can register with US Masters Swimming and continue competing your entire life.

Anthony Thompson, MOVY Masters

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