You Know You’re a Swimmer When…12 Quirks That Come With the Sport

Photo Courtesy: Kelly Lennon

You Know You’re a Swimmer When…12 Quirks That Come With the Sport

By Rachel Helm

To most people, swimming is seen as just a sport or having a little splash in the pool. However, to a competitive swimmer, it becomes a lifestyle. Here are 12 quirks of competitive swimming that we all can relate to.

1) Chlorine becomes your natural scent.


Photo Courtesy: ISHOF Shop

Wherever you go, a strong scent of chlorine follows. Whenever a friend says they can smell chlorine, you instantly feel like you need to apologize. No matter how much body wash you use to mask your natural scent of the pool, one simple lick or beam of sweat brings the smell right back.

To combat this odor, check out our online store for soap, moisturizers, and shampoo and conditioner.

2) Females permanently adapt to the messy bun hair style.


Photo Courtesy: Wyn Wiley

You can forget all about straighteners and curlers: It’s all about your damp hair being shoved on top of your head being held together by the same hair tie that has lived on your wrist for the past year. You know you rock the swimmer bun when you go to afternoon practice and your hair is still damp from morning training. It is usually an uncontrollable mess.

3) Having an awful song stuck on repeat in your head for the entire practice.

Jul 18, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Sierra Schmidt of the United States dances on the pool deck before competing in the women's swimming 800m freestyle final during the 2015 Pan Am Games at Pan Am Aquatics UTS Centre and Field House. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Erich Schlegel/USA Today Sports Images

Swimming up and down for two hours with the same song stuck in your head is a one way ticket to insanity. You don’t even know the whole song; its’ usually just the chorus stuck on repeat, and you can’t seem to get past that no matter how hard you try.

4) “Are we leaving this top?”

pace clock

Photo Courtesy: Swimming World

The most confusing part of beginning the main set is knowing when to go. Hesitantly waiting at the wall to see if anyone else is about to leave on the top approaching, but then hoping it’s actually the next top.

5) The dreaded fear of leading the lane during a threshold set.

“You go first!” “No you go first!” is the most common argument just before starting a threshold set. Sometimes you have to take one for the team and just go. Now you have to swim out of your comfort zone to avoid another swimmer riding your wave, and try your hardest not to die in the process.

6) Can’t forget about losing count when you’re leading the lane.


Photo Courtesy: SwimOutlet & MIKE LEWIS

As you’re focusing on keeping a distance between you and the swimmer behind you, there’s a sudden realization that you’ve been distracted and now have no idea what length you’re on. Whenever you’re swimming 500s, lengths 10 to 15 all blend together. Now you’re awkwardly watching the swimmer next to you to work out if they’re going to turn or stop at the wall.

7) The bottomless pit we call our stomach.


Photo Courtesy: Rabi Krishnappa

You can eat an insane amount of food. Carbs, meat, candy: you name it and it’s gone. The suggested serving size feeds four, but after a hard practice, it serves you and you only.

8) Napping, anywhere, anytime.

grove city napping- natalie wolfe

Photo Courtesy: Natalie (Keibler) Wolfe

Thanks to multi-day swim meets, you have the new-found ability to nap almost anywhere at anytime. Falling asleep on a bus becomes as easy as falling asleep in your bed. Twenty-minute power naps after morning practice before your 8 a.m. become a game changer as you master that new skill of the power naps.

9) Sitting at a swim meet for hours to swim a race that lasts less than a minute.

Photo Courtesy: Hayley Good

You sit around a hot pool for hours on end to swim a race that – if you’re a sprinter – will last less than a minute. Sometimes you even have to do a second warm up, since you’ve sat around for so long since your original warm up.

10) Explaining to a non-swimmer that you didn’t win every meet.

Explaining to a non-swimmer that you didn’t win the event but you did win your heat is always a fascinating situation. You then have to reply, “No I’m not faster than Michael Phelps,” or “I’m not sure if I will go to the Olympics,” because that’s the most common thing non-swimmers ask you.

11) Fogged up goggle rage is real.


Photo Courtesy: Emily Cheng

The day you get new goggles and can finally throw your old pair in the trash is like Christmas. Although difficult to part with your old fogged up pair, they did cause you some rage. Swimming less than half a length before your vision becomes blurry due to the fog is never a fun time. Nothing is more frustrating than having to stop every chance you get to wipe them clear with your fingers before pushing off, despite knowing they will only fog again.

12) “What did you say? I have water stuck in my ear.”

September 28, 2018: during the NCAA swimming and diving meet between Saint Louis University and The WashU Bears at the Millstone Pool on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo: Danny Reise/Washington University)

Photo Courtesy: Danny Reise

This is one of the most commonly used phrases of a swimmer, spoken when someone tries to talk to you yet all you have is water sloshing about in your ear. Violently shaking your head or wriggling your finger in your ear provides the only solution. Little is more satisfying than the water finally dripping out of your ear, and your hearing is restored to normal.

The list can go on and on. What would you add to the list?

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


  1. Lorna Ryan Ross

    Everything here describes my daughter so well.

  2. avatar
    John Ian Bobbitt

    Oh my god, I started laughing at 1 and almost peed myself by 10. Great article! I dated a teammate from age 6 through college….and couldn’t help but laugh that the “messy bun” and “chlorine scent” register In My brain as “that’s so hot”.

  3. Holly Karis

    Keira Whitford number 3, 4 and 5

  4. avatar
    Megan Bilko

    #9, that is actually a photo of me!! Too bad I was a distance swimmer and swam for many many…many minutes.

  5. avatar
    Sandy Thatcher

    In the days before we all wore goggles it was common to see halos around lights after practice. At least that is one problem we no longer have to deal with.

  6. avatar

    The messy swimmer bun is forever my go-to hairstyle! Love this.

  7. avatar
    Dawn stevens

    All are true swam for 10 years in competition. Loved every single comment above cuz I’ve always heard them.

  8. Kathryn Newberry

    Losing count while leading the lane is totally my bag. I would blame it on my age but we’re a masters club so… ?

    • Katharine O

      I swam the 400m freestyle for the first time in 14 years last year and because they had taken the whistle out when you have 50m to go before you finish, I was freaking out about losing count. Always anywhere between length 5 and 9 I lost it.

    • Katharine O

      So do I. Without fail. My brain seems to shut down after 100. Too impatient lol. You’d think they’d give us Masters some slack and add the whistles for the last 50m hehe.

  9. Kelly Spencer Williams

    The chlorine scent is a lifesaver when you have a boy going through puberty. Only one of my four sons swim competitively, he the only one who didn’t stink constantly

    • Sarah Ditton

      Kelly Spencer Williams I was just commenting to my husband how much the kids stank during the months they couldn’t train ?

    • David Moreno

      Kelly Spencer Williams they should bottle the smell and sell it at swim meets.??

    • Heather Ware

      Kelly Spencer Williams I was a swimmer years ago, went every morning b4 school, took me years to realise why when we played kiss chase in the playground nobody chased me!!! I stunk of chlorine 24/7 ??

  10. Julie Tellier

    #3 our team practices in the same pool with synchronized swimmers so they hear the same song over and over for months

  11. Pam Oliver Goldsmith

    Christene Michelle. #9. Lol. Your welcome for having a roommate who was a distance swimmer so you could count and fill up some of that extra time! ??

    • Christene Michelle

      Pam Oliver Goldsmith I don’t know what I would do without you. Who else would have me serenaded for my birthday.

    • Kate King

      Colleen Alexander leasing the pack and losing count ? i still do it when i am training, hate going first because i always lose count…even when i am not first i lose count. ? i need those goggles that have digital reading in goggles!

  12. Emma Carew

    Goggle rage is so real??

  13. Jenni Riggs

    Anna Jordan Luth look at #11! Someone else is standing next to you too. I can’t tell who it is

  14. Jessica Burgess

    Savannah Mitchell Kyle Mckenzie Skye Sheerin Savannah Sheerin So Relatable ?!

  15. Neve Masters

    Lucy Simpson Casey White this is very trueee

  16. avatar
    Yolande Cowley

    Every comment is like my daughter. So funny. Missing it so much during Covid.

  17. Jo Bell-Johnston

    Retired 36 yrs ago and this bought back memories with absolute clarity, like it was yesterday!!!

  18. Lynette Hines

    Sitting at a swim meet for hours waiting to swim your race which will take 4 minutes !!! This happens all the time at World Masters meets.

  19. avatar
    Sylvia Glenn

    My most treasured memory–My now deceased husband a short time after our marriage started–I asked if he didn’t get tired of me smelling of chlorine all the time. (I raced and taught swimming) He replied “I thought all girls smelled like that!” Still love you honey!!!

  20. Kathy O

    Courtney Bimber Pierce you are 7 John Bimber you are 9and I am 1 just can’t get rid of the smell

    • Hannah Faulkner

      Shannen Naylor it won’t let me open it ?

  21. Kelly Kane

    Maria Kane Colleen Kane

  22. avatar
    Jim Pogue

    Yep, all of the above. Except #2. (Guessing it’s a girl thing vs guy thing)

  23. avatar

    I left swimming in the late 80’s so, explaining your shaved legs (male) to your school friends. Also smacking knuckles with another swimmer on the other side of the lane, usually during butterfly.

  24. avatar
    Jane Smith

    I miss the friends I had on my swim team (and cross-country team) in college. I wish SOMEONE had prepared me for the grief of losing something that gave me so much joy. It took me decades to get over it.