By Cathleen Pruden, Swimming World College Intern
According to urban dictionary, a swammer is “a person who used to swim, but has either quit, or retired from the sport.”
I thought I was a swammer.
It only lasted for 100 hours, though.
Saturday I ended my collegiate career with a lackluster 1650 at Division III NCAAs. Sunday morning I went out on top, setting a lifetime best time in a long course 400 IM. That night I flew back to school, unpacked my bags, and sobbed when I took out my NCAA trophy. Swimming has always been about so much more than the tangible rewards, but seeing the last one was a painful recognition of the end I’ve come to.
Monday morning I couldn’t think of a good reason to get out of bed. Eventually I did, and I faked my way through the day. I turned in my athletic department issued gear and cried again.
Tuesday and Wednesday got moderately better, but my thoughts still wandered and the tears still flowed.
Thursday, 100 hours after I’d climbed out of that 400 IM and thrown my goggles in the air, in celebration of skipping warm down, I jumped back in the pool. Forty-five yards into the swim, I felt my mood elevating, and I had a thought, “What even is a swammer, anyways?”
At the 75, my underwater was long and easy. I knew what a swammer was. It’s something I will never be. I’ll always be a swimmer. Being a swimmer is not defined by my NCAA eligibility, nor my USA Swimming registration. Being a swimmer is something more.
That underwater is something I worked so long to learn. It was something that was continually forgotten in the stress of a race. I relaxed, and it flourished. With that, I was reassured that I’m not done with this sport. By the 100 I noticed my speed was building. I let myself build that first 200 yards because it felt good.
When I stopped after a mere two minutes, my smile was the biggest it had been since Sunday, when I ate ice cream for the first time in two months. I was happy again. My happiness was the water. It was the feeling of the tiles on the bottom of my feet. It was the feeling of my pesky right hand still sweeping out when it needed to pull down. It was the noise the water made around me–a crashing and a rushing I hadn’t appreciated in my final weeks.
Am I still sad? Absolutely. My identity as a student-athlete has been torn apart. I’ll never get to represent my wonderful school again. I won’t suffer through another training trip. I’ll never have a connection this deep with another group of teammates.
But, am I a swammer? No. When I dove back in the pool, I was no longer empty. The chlorine filled the void, and I was some version of me again. For even just a few minutes, I was at peace.
For some of us, the passion is too great to ever give up. We’ll never be swammers. We’re still swimmers.