By Alison Murtagh, Swimming World College Intern
Swimming is usually referred to as an “individual” sport, which is ironic due to the notion that most swimmers are rather loud and social people. As a result, it can be very difficult to swim distance sets without being able to talk to someone about the random joke that came into your head mid-1000, or share something funny that happened to you that day at school. Instead, you’re stuck with your own monotonous thoughts as you do flip turn after flip turn—that is, until you finally get to the wall.
That’s why the teammates in the lane are so crucial. They are the ones to turn to with a look of agony plastered on your face when the main set is written on the board. They are the ones that you social kick with when coach isn’t looking, or squirt with your water bottle just to see their reaction. A “lane mate” is there to harmonize with you when a new song comes out on the radio and you just can’t get it out of your head, or to tell you to shush if you don’t realize that coach is about to talk.
They hear the comments you whisper under your breath, and are the first ones to offer a high-five after a good practice. Swimmers are the kings and queens of having broken conversations on the wall in the middle of a set. In no other sport can athletes tell their teammates about their days within 10 five-second periods on the wall between 100s.
When you’re trapped in a lane with one to five other people every day, for hours on end, you are bound to form a lasting connection. They are the best motivators around. Sure, you can get annoyed when you swim on top of each other, or accidentally kick one another during the main set. However, your lane mates know you better than anyone else.
A lane is like a home. You can expect the same people to be there, at the same time, everyday.
Despite all the sets when you’ve accidentally collided, or maybe even yelled at one another, there is no one you want to do better at a meet than your lane mate. You’ve seen them trying to hide tears behind their goggles after a rough day, and you’ve seen them have the practice of a lifetime. Although you may not have appreciated it at the time, the other people in your lane were the ones that made you want to try a little bit harder on the last 25 of the main set, or stay in the pool when you wanted to get out and just lie down on deck.
Spending so much time with the same people can seem daunting. Won’t you get sick of them? Do you annoy each other? Yes and yes. However, we might not realize it at the time, but some of the best memories from swimming are formed with the people you swim in a lane with. While the whole team sees as swimmer at his or her best and worst times, no one experiences it quite like the people in the lane with you.
There’s a special type of happiness that results from seeing a beloved lane mate standing on the podium at a big meet. Knowing you were there to help him or her push through a tough set, and making him or her laugh after a long day. In a way, your lane mate’s accomplishment signifies your accomplishment as a teammate as well.
After you’re done swimming, the bleached hair will go back to its original color, and the shoulders will slowly begin to return to the size of a normal human. However, the memories formed in the lane will last a lifetime.
The times you pushed off the wall choking on water because you were laughing at a comment your lane mate said, or the time you just needed a hug after a long day. The time you were all kicked out of practice for missing the interval, or the time you got out early for being the only group to make your 400 IM thresholds. The early mornings, the tears, and the goals will stay with you and will forever be a part of your swimming legacy.