The unattached member in the Virginia LMSC joined USMS during his senior year of high school
Saying goodbye is hard. Whether it’s a friend, a family member, or even an activity, there’s always pain in leaving. Sometimes, the pain that comes with departure is too much to handle, prompting a readjustment in life. Often, the older you are, the more you will have to say goodbye to someone or something you love. Teenagers like me seldom face the same gravity when bidding adieu. When I gave my farewell to swimming in February, I couldn’t handle the enormous hole in my life. Knowing that I couldn’t simply rewind the clock to have a do-over, I decided to make a readjustment. I would continue training independently and become what I had laughed at for all of my high school career: a U.S. Masters Swimming swimmer.
My swimming career started when I was 10. I was looking forward to spending summer break with my friends, but I came home to learn that my mother had signed me up for summer league. In previous years, I successfully negotiated my way out of summer league, but now it was too late.
At my first practice, I made a plan to hate the sport as much as possible so that I could get myself out of participating. Instead, I started falling in love with swimming. Most of that passion came from the coach, Jeff Scott, who encouraged me every step of the way. Even though I made every attempt to find something wrong with swimming, I couldn’t. My coach was too nice, the teammates were too welcoming, and the water was too natural.
When I entered high school, I was lucky enough to have the same friends I had from summer league. I have not come to, and maybe never will, appreciate the magnitude of connections swimming gave me. Not only did I make friends from swimming, the skills and motivation I learned in the water helped me in school and even in making friends.
However, the first three years of my high school career were wasted on being too focused on competition and seeking results rather than trusting the process. Though I wince at these mistakes, I can’t say I regret any of them because they played a crucial role in my development of loving swimming.
In the fall of 2018, I realized I was about to have my swan song from an entity that had been a fixture in my life for nearly half my life. Though the season hadn’t started, I started preseason work with a few friends, who happened to be my co-captains, almost every morning. Our coach gave us sets for each practice until the start of the season. What separated this season from the other three was my readiness and love for being a part of my team. The fire I had burned hotter than ever before.
Soon, the state championship came. My high school, Hampton Roads Academy, held a boys’ swimming winning streak (a “swinning streak,” if you will) of seven years. As the meet progressed, it became clear that we would take our eighth title home. Regardless, I had one more swim left to close out my career in the most memorable way possible: the 400 freestyle relay. The entire race was a blur, but I know I split well. However, as I warmed down, I could still feel something left in me. As if I wasn’t quite done racing. Ignoring this, I joined my team to accept our plaque for our eighth title.
After each goodbye and farewell, I grew increasingly sadder as I realized I would never compete with my team ever again. I still had the off feeling I felt while cooling down. I thought the sorrows and sadness of my last season would slip away upon easing my tech suit off. I kept thinking, “Oh, I’ll feel better tomorrow. I won’t miss those early practices anyway.” With every passing tomorrow, I felt emptier. Because my season was now over, I kept these thoughts to myself. I didn’t want to be seen as a washed-up high school athlete who was trying to relive his glory days.
I wasn’t good enough, nor did I want, to be a college swimming superstar. Nonetheless, I wanted to keep the sport in my life. Months earlier, I had even shaped my college list around where I could swim recreationally and which schools had the nicest pools.
With our season over, my coach came to me, half-joking, with a proposal that I swim at a local USMS meet. At first, I refused. I had always thought of USMS as the old people who swim painfully slow laps in the lanes adjacent to mine.
Two weeks later, I was still thinking about the offer. I began to take this as a sign that I wasn’t done with swimming, nor was I supposed to be. When the thoughts became too much, I caved and registered for my first meet.
Unsurprisingly, I was one of the youngest swimmers at my first meet just as I am at Spring Nationals. Nonetheless, what I’ve realized about Masters swimming is that each person is competing on his or her own accord. No one’s mom or dad signed someone up against his or her will. No one was forced out of bed at 5:30 for morning practice by the threat of being reprimanded by a coach. I realize that each person at a Masters meet chooses to train, wake up early, and (sometimes) watch what they eat. The only way to explain this anomaly is that everyone in Masters swimming loves their sport. No question about it. Pure, unadulterated love. Each swimmer that I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to is excited and motivated to be competing regardless of how far they’ve come or how old they might be.
As I write this reflection in the airport about my journey through swimming, I realize I have many more years to enjoy swimming. At my first meet, I struck up a conversation with an older woman (whose name evades my memory). She started swimming two years ago at the age of 68. Now, she’s having the time of her life training and racing. Her story made me realize that I have to enjoy each swim like it’s my last. My high school career, while productive, was never something I truly immersed myself in because it was always about winning state titles.
At Spring Nationals, I don’t strive to break records or win events. I’m here to celebrate and show my love for a sport that has given me so much for so little. The discipline, determination, willpower, and love that I learned through swimming are tools I’m already using in my young life. With everything I’ve learned so far, I’m beyond excited to see what else swimming can teach me as I continue with USMS.