A swimmer’s life is full of pain, resistance, and disqualification. But something pulls her through the water.
By Alison Kirsch
From my view of the pool, everything looked peaceful. The calm roar of the filters, the gentle ripples off the lane lines, the occasional swimmer with their slow, rhythmic strokes, and the soft droning of my coach’s voice: “You’ve been disqualified.”
I’ve been on a competitive swimming team for seven years. Seven years of relentless practices, painful test sets, and dreadful meets. I’ve been disqualified from a race six times, and every single time I have cried like there was no tomorrow. Sports are painful, especially one where holding your breath is one of the founding principles. So why am I still here?
I’ve walked onto the same pool deck every weekday since I was nine. I start practice the same way every time, practice the same drills, the same sets, and then go home in a similar state every day: wet and exhausted. Einstein once said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” He obviously never met a swimmer.
Practices are an easy part of the sport compared to my long-detested foe: swim meets. In usual circumstances, I can find a place during a meet where I can be alone to vent my frustration. But in the instance of the 2017 State A Championships, the board of officials thought it right to inform me of my disqualification right before my last relay.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that before the relays of every state meet, an MC plays music (mediocre, at best) as an attempt to pump up the crowd. So there I was: surrounded by my relay team, trying my best to sing along to YMCA whilst crying behind the protection of my black-tinted goggles. To reiterate: nothing hits harder than crying at a swim meet.
I vividly remember standing behind the blocks, watching the first two of my teammates swim one after the other, dreading my turn in the pool.
The coldness of the water hits me first before anything else. Coming up to the surface, I take my first stroke; forcing both of my arms forward out of the water in an arch and pushing them back down to force the water away. Breaths come rhythmic, and the majority of my swim goes by in a blur. After I plunge my hands into the wall, I can’t help but collapse into it. I have enough time to look back at Brook as she swims off before Charli grabs me by the arms and hauls me out of the pool.
I had kept our place. Breathing heavily, I look at Brook again as she swims, and I continue my crying while Charli holds me. We ended in second place.
When I compare my teammates from when I was nine to now, there are slim similarities. People have moved on: either to another sport or to another level of swimming. I’ve lost track of most of my teammates from years past, and new ones are ever flowing into my life (and lane). The only consistency has been Charli.
Charli joined my swim team a year after me, and we’ve known each other since we were ten. Charli is the kind of person that I never fight or bicker with. She’s truly an angel amongst all the egotistical swimmers crowding our lanes. After every failed race, every unsuccessful practice, every broken heart, Charli has been the one that I fall on. This has proved true for every disqualification I have had the dishonor of achieving.
The pool and I have always had an unstable relationship, but I believe that the highs and rewards of swimming compete adequately with the lows and defeats. Swimming has been the only activity that I’ve stuck with for this long, and although I’ve certainly improved from my last disqualification, my next defeat is inevitable and only a matter of when. Why I stick with this sport is an ongoing question of mine, and my only lead is Charli.
Header image: WyomingBig10SwimMeet_20161227_063.jpg by Christopher Fitz on Flickr