Swimming is a sport which takes years of practice to even begin to understand concepts like technique and racing strategies. That is why a large portion of swimmers have started from a young age, and have grown up surrounded by the sport. For instance, I joined my current swim team at the age of six. Fast forward a dozen years and here I am today, getting ready to head to a university league. That is two thirds of my life spent going to practices, racing at meets, and learning the ropes. I have come to learn that there are a few telltale signs which show that you have been a swimmer for the majority of your life…
1. First and foremost, your team is your second family. You live together at away meets and during training camps. Thanks to morning practices, you know who is definitely not a morning person, and who gets cranky if they miss a nap. You share (many) meals together, whether it’s pre-workout snacks or team dinners. You know one another’s best qualities and worst habits.
2. Much like the team mates who become like family, the pool you train at becomes your home away from home. You know it like the back of your hand, have memorized every crack at the bottom of the pool and every inch of the ceiling. You have the inside scoop on the best water fountains, know which showers have the ideal pressure levels, and can spot even the most minute change that is made to the facility.
3. You have also probably developed specific preferences for racing conditions. You like competing in certain pools or lanes more than others, and have superstitions when it comes to pre-race meals. You may have a lucky cap or pair of goggles, and you most definitely have a favourite suit.
4. You have accumulated an impressive collection of medals, trophies and ribbons over the years, and have an absurd amount of deck passes either hanging from your swim bag, or somewhere in your room. You also own more swimming-related t-shirts than regular clothing, and an abundance of suits.
5. You have learnt all of the tricks to dealing with classic swimmer issues. You know the best creams for dry skin and which types of shampoo and conditioner get your hair to look moderately healthy. You know the best brands of waterproof mascara, and have gotten freakishly good at getting water out of your ears.
6. Due to your frequent stays at hotels during away meets, you have become extremely creative in the art of air drying your clothes and towels. Lamps, chairs, shower heads and even curtain rods can all be expertly used to hang suits and team apparel in between prelims and finals.
7. A final sign that you have been in the sport for an impressively long amount of time is that you have painstakingly perfected your “swim speech” to be used when conversing with non swimmers. You barely have to think anymore when explaining the basics of the sport to people who are completely unfamiliar with it. On top of that, you have learnt about 100 different ways to say “I can’t at that time, I have swim practice” when making plans with friends outside of your team.
The list could probably go on further, but you get the gist of it. The habits that may look strange to non swimmers become second nature once you dedicate years to the sport. Growing up I used to struggle to explain to my friends at school my passion for the sport. A lot of them simply didn’t see the appeal of it or understand why I continued to dedicate so much time towards it, but looking back that is part of the reason why I love being a competitive swimmer so much. I love being part of a sport with such a closely knit community that understands one another, even when the rest of the world doesn’t quite get it.