Swimming: love it or hate it

Last weekend I went for a swim on a whim. And it felt great.

Swimming is no longer something I regularly do. It was once the center of my life. I swam, daily, for more than a decade.

swim1With my sister in our first swim team photo, 1984

I was a fish and I loved the water. I proudly reeked of chlorine and my hair felt like straw. You couldn’t drag me away from the water. For years, kicking and pulling my way through a pool was my favorite place to be.

ymcaCirca 1986. Can you spot me? (hint: top row)

I swam year-round and by the time I was in high school, I competed for one summer team and two winter teams. I often wore my pajamas to school over my swimsuit for early morning practices. My weeknights were spent at one practice or another (occasionally I had two in one day). And my weekends were spent at meets around southern Pennsylvania and Delaware.

I loved to swim, until I didn’t.

All of a sudden, competitive swimming wasn’t fun anymore. Yes, I learned such incredible life skills through the sport, including the importance of teamwork, the vitality of one’s attitude and that one had to put in the work in order to see results.

I learned numerous life lessons that shaped me into who I am today – thank you Coach Dan! I wouldn’t trade my swimming years for the world. But I was done. It was time to move on.

Eighteen years have passed since I raced my last race – a states meet as part of a medley relay. I remember it like it was yesterday. As part of my YMCA team, I was the 100-butterfly leg of our four-person relay. We swam at an indoor pool at a university in Philadelphia.  We fared well and left it all in the pool. It was a fantastic way to end my competitive swimming career, the end of an era.

swim2My summer swim team photo in the early 90s. I think I’m 15 here?

More than once, I’ve since hopped back into the water with goggles and a swim cap to attempt a few laps. I’d always complete my laps, but my heart was never in it.

Instead I walked, I hiked, I ran and I rowed.

Several friends tried to encourage me to tackle triathlons. I politely declined. Later, as those same friends repeatedly pressed, citing my swimming skills as an asset for triathletes, I “not-so-politely” declined.

Swimming was no longer fun for me. Why put myself in a position where I’d most likely loathe each workout? That would be a recipe for disaster.

Then last summer, I joined my friend Jess in the pool as she trained for her first triathlon. Together, we swam laps at a local indoor YMCA.

Stroke after stroke, I started to smile.  Unexpectedly, my attitude had shifted. Swimming again became enjoyable.

There was no pressure to go fast. There was no coach shouting improvements for my stroke. It was just me and the open water. And finally, I found myself looking forward to a swim.

It’s funny how you can fall right back into old (swimming) habits.

I can still don a latex swim cap one-handed.

I still count my freestyle strokes on every lap. (It’s typically 21 strokes, if you were interested.)

Backstroke flip turns are still the bane of my existence.

Those rainbows surrounding indoor pool ceiling lights? Yep, they haven’t gone away.

I’m still an awful breast-stroker, but that doesn’t stop me from using it as a “rest lap.”

I still inhale way more chlorinated water than one person should ever consume.

Even when swimming alone in a lane, I still swim on the right side. I have to make room for my fellow swimmers.

Sunday evening, I headed to the pool to tackle a cross-training workout. I laughed at myself as I jumped in the water. In all, I swam more than a mile.

Some strokes were easy, others were hard. But I wanted to swim every one of them. And that, my friends, is something worth cheering about.

Have you ever burnt out on a sport or beloved activity? How do you handle it? Did you ever go back?

18 thoughts on “Swimming: love it or hate it

  1. As you know, I was a swim team member too, although never quite as dedicated as you were. I love that I had the experience and also that it’s made me a strong swimmer – I think it’s such an important skill to have! Considering having Pooks sign up for the team since we are joining the pool club this summer… but only if he wants to. I never want him to feel like I’m pressuring him. Coaches can do that! 🙂

    • I love that you and J let Pooks pick his own activities and lead the charge when he loves them — or doesn’t. I am so thankful I had the experience, was a string swimmer and learned countless life lessons. I’d love to see him have those as well 🙂

  2. I love this. I actually agree that it is quite an important skill to have. It’s somewhat scary how many people don’t know how to swim. I hated breastroke and probably always will. I could never be an imer solely because of it.

    • Thanks Hollie! I was never a (good) IMer for the same reason! Butterfly and free were always my strength, and my childhood best friend specialized in back and breast. We joked we made the perfect combined IM. If only!

  3. Like you, I haven’t touched the water to swim even one lap since my last race at NCAA in March 1999. I also reached my point. I left it all behind in that last race and haven’t looked back. I’m not quite at the point that I will ever enjoy it again, but I hope to some day. If my son ever wants to swim competitively I will embrace it and probably become an official but I don’t know at this point if that is one of the sports I will promote for him. I too, would not change a second of it and would do it all over again!

    • Thanks for sharing Alexis, I was thinking of you repeatedly as I wrote this. (and I found some absolutely spectacular old pics of us.) I remember chatting with you about swimming burnout several times after high school. You were one of the main people who kept me going that last year. So, I thank you!

  4. Ahhh you are speaking to me. I used to be a competetive swimmer in HS and then college and then after… I was too poor and too cheap to pay for a gym with a pool so I started to run. And now I’m a runner. But I was pretty burnt out from swimming and trying to get better and better and etc.

    I am so happy that you have found swimming to be enjoyable again and I am sure if I hopped back in, I would too. Isn’t it funny how when we compete in sports, generally against ourselves (for a PR), we put such pressure on ourselves to almost make it not enjoyable?


    • haha, thanks much! Swimming is surely a sport that easily leads to burn out. It’s really true of any sport you train for intensely for years upon years. I spent years trying to improve my times, like killing myself to improve my times. Then I was like– no. no more.

      And yes, we totally do compete against ourselves for an elusive best time, to the point of killing the joy of what we first loved about the sport to begin with! xo

  5. As a swimmer turned runner, I can relate! I went all the way (swam in HS & college), and was so glad to be done come February my senior year. But I’m definitely getting the itch to get back in the pool. And now that Oiselle is coming out with a swim line, I have no excuse!

    • haha, Yes, I need lots of new suits. (OK one is really all I need, but I DO need one) Oiselle it will likely be!! 🙂 Scratch that itch my friend! That’s what I’ve learned – do it if you feel moved, and don’t if you don’t!

  6. Softball was “my” thing. I played it for most of my young life. I gave it up before going to college (although I had been offered a scholarship to Northern Iowa after not even playing for over a year and a half…my town only had team play up until 16). It was just time. I have rarely played since then, but it is still “in me”. And, I still have a killer side-arm throw. Not sure that gets me anywhere in life…but I still relish in it a bit. ha!

    • Thanks for sharing Megan! I didn’t know you played some serious softball as a child! See? we learn more about each other every day! (and rock on with that killer arm!)

  7. My thing was dance. I danced for 17 years before quitting in college. I’ve toyed with taking adult classes at a local college, but part of what I loved about it was being on stage (that hasn’t changed much) but I also loved spending hours in our basement dancing and choreographing until I was hungry or had to do homework. Now, I couldn’t imagine spending the time necessary to do it.

    • Thanks so much for sharing, hon! That’s exactly how I feel about pottery. I love love loved throwing pots, teapots and other vessels on the wheel when I was in college, but it was so incredibly time-consuming. I can’t commit that sort of time to a hobby these days! to memories!

  8. Love Love Love!!! So glad I could help! Wish you had taught me the one-handed swim cap trick before I left town (I miss you!!!) I was like this with running. I got into it then made myself NUTS with training schedules and times. I still follow schedules, but it wasn’t until I learned to not be so fixated that I really started enjoying it.

    • Thanks darling and I MISS YOU TOO!

      I really need to not take myself too seriously. I learned that when I do, I run the risk of making my joyful hobby something far less. 😉 How’s Albany?

  9. Your story sounds a lot like mine! Swimming was such a big and wonderful part of my life when I was growing up. Then I stayed away from it for a few years. I was burnt out, and I knew my times would always go downhill from that point on. Plus I was deluded in thinking that, if I stopped swimming, my arms and shoulders would somehow get smaller. But after a few years, once I realized that my shoulders weren’t going anywhere, I joined a masters club. Although I didn’t know anyone there when I started, it felt a little like coming home. Because it takes a certain personality type to really enjoy swimming, I felt like my new teammates were very much like my old teammates. I’ve been a masters swimmer for years now. It keeps me in shape, doing something I love. I don’t go to swim meets because I don’t think I could handle how slow my times are now. But the ocean swims are lots of fun.

    • Thanks for sharing Ana! Am so glad to hear that you reconnected with swimming as a masters swimmer. I don’t know if I could ever do it in an organized manner again, and that’s fine. I loved what I learned and what I gained and all of the amazing people I met. How many years were you away from the pool before you returned?

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