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?