Swimmers have an abundant amount of everyday issues to face. That much is clear. How about when we combine the constant struggles of lactic acid buildup, annoying lane mates or difficult sets with the outside world, though? What are some of the hardships faced by swimmers who are also full time students?
Probably the hardest thing about being a student athlete is that people underestimate how truly exhausting it is. By the time our fellow classmates wake up to start getting ready for their day, we have already swam an entire workout. By the end of our first class, we have already been awake twice as long as the students sitting next to us. When the bell rings at the end of the day, our classmates get to go home to relax or get started on studying while we head back to the pool for round two. And by the time they are finished their homework and ready to head to bed, we are just getting home and starting ours.
The daily exhaustion that comes hand in hand with being a student athlete means the constant battle to stay awake in class. Particularly monotonous teachers can easily lull us to sleep, especially if it’s after a hard morning workout. We are strategic in knowing the best desks that optimize comfort for in-class naps, and have distinguished which teachers are lenient (or sometimes just plain oblivious) about having your eyes closed during lectures. We would be lying if we said we hadn’t strongly considered bringing a pillow to class, and we have all at least once woken up to a class full of students staring at us as we wipe the drool off our mouth.
Which brings me to our next struggle- our classmates. It goes without saying that school friends who don’t participate in sports themselves will never fully understand us. They think the amount of time we dedicate to swimming is crazy, or try to encourage us to “just skip practice!” to finish up some studying. Aside from this, though, is the constant flow of questions at school.
“Why is your hair always wet?”
“What are those red marks under your eyes?”
“Is it just me or does it smell like chlorine?”
“Want to hang out after school?”
Even though pretty much all we talk about is our athletic lives, classmates seem to forget on a regular basis that we swim competitively. People either don’t realize how time consuming our sport is, or tend not to realize just how long our season is. In fact, I have started explaining the ‘off season’ to my friends simply by saying that it doesn’t exist and that we essentially are never not training.
A final issue to consider as a student athlete is grades. Balancing 15+ hours of training per week while keeping up with schoolwork is no easy task, and involves a lot of time management skills. Away swim competitions mean study sessions in between prelims and finals, and we are constantly trying to squeeze in homework during lunch breaks at school in order to lighten the workload for after practice. It is a huge amount or responsibility to manage, especially for students on scholarships who need to keep their marks high, or ones who are trying to get in to certain academic programs.
Being a student athlete is a lot to handle. So why bother, right? Why not just focus on school instead? As full time students who are elite athletes, we tend to have a huge amount of passion- for learning, for excellence, and for our sport. So although it makes for a tiring daily routine, it is our routine, and our way of life. We like to live in constant action, and truly appreciate the feeling of fulfilment that a busy schedule gives us. Plus, who doesn’t love a good excuse to nap at school?