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by Rebecca A Eckland

August 1, 2013

Measuring love, one stroke at a time

Last summer I covered recreational swim championships for the sports section of a local newspaper. Although I’m a Masters swimmer now, I was never a swimmer growing up. The fanfare, the crowds, the team camaraderie: these were bright and glaring and, I admit, somewhat strange for me. Yet, the first event I watched was a 25-yard butterfly race for 6-and-under girls. Little bodies with impossibly small arms carrying them from one end to the pool to the other.

They were remarkably fast, or at least to me. I’d only learned the butterfly stroke a few months before, when I turned 30. Watching their progress poolside, I felt like I was sinking—those kids could swim faster than I can.

And they probably always will. But will they love the sport more than I do?

If love is equated with speed, well, then yes. But what about burnout—about training too much too soon so that whatever love you might have felt extinguishes itself in the splash of yet another meet, another practice?

A close friend of mine was a swimmer growing up. She spent summers in the water swimming for team “Encore Dolphin.” Her event? The 100 fly—the one stroke I can’t do much longer than 50 meters before my arms might fall off, but a stroke I love, regardless. She told me what she misses most about her swimming life was the team and the way everyone always cheered for each other.

“You don’t miss the racing itself? The training?” I asked.

I really wanted to add: the dazzling dawns you see from the water? The way you learn to move in a new medium with a grace and strength you never thought you’d have? And the butterfly? The glory it is to feel like a dolphin, mimicking the kick, strength itself, personified.

But she said: “It’s the people I miss the most.” Maybe there’s something to that.

The majority of the time you spend in the water is shared with other bodies. Lanemates who hold the interval, pushing you beyond what might feel comfortable or what you thought was possible for your body to do. You get to hear the word “congratulations” after a workout or race done well; or commiserate after a hard set when you stand side-by-side, panting and breathless.

I’ve learned to look forward to practices where I’ll have familiar faces to push me, to pace me. They are as important as the medium itself; these others who have a stronger kick and backstroke than I do; but who have to work to keep up with me when we don our paddles and pull.

Some swam as kids. Others did not.

No matter their history—or mine—we swim, our reasons silent beneath the stirring of whatever stroke moves us, practice after practice.


  • Human Interest


  • Butterfly
  • Goal Setting
  • Competition
  • Family