Since the moment I was old enough to hold my head up, I’ve been in the water. At less than a year old, I was floating back and forth in the lap lane in an inflatable donut while my mom swam laps. The subsequent summers my parents enrolled me in swim lessons (and despite the occasional temper tantrum, I generally had no objections). I advanced from “swim babies” to “guppy” to “minnow,” then finally to “fish” and “shark.” By the time I turned 5, I was ready for swim team.
And so, every summer for the next 8 years, I woke up at 7am most weekdays and reported to the YMCA for practice. My nanny drove me to pools all over town and spent hours in the hot Louisiana sun while I raced in meets. I was one of the fastest girls in my age group, but there were always the superstars (kids that swam year-round on club teams) who never failed to win every event. So in my closet sits a box filled with ribbons for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th place (though there are a few blue ones in there!). And for some reason I never really cared. Winning was never that important to me.
I hadn’t considered advancing my swim career until one day in the school cafeteria my sophomore year. I was eating lunch with my friends when–lo and behold–my YMCA swim coach walked up. Turned out he was the new swim coach for my high school, and he demanded to know why I wasn’t on the team. “Be at practice tonight. 5:30,” he said. My peers were surprised to see me at the pool that night, and even more surprised that I was as fast (faster, actually) than most of them. I surprised them once again at my first high school meet, when I placed 10th overall in the 50 free.
I had no problem qualifying for state in multiple events that year (and the following years). Although I missed many practices because of schedule conflicts with marching band, I loved every minute I spent in the pool. I joined a year-round group to stay in shape during off-season. After my senior state meet, I knew I wasn’t ready to give up doing what I loved. That’s when I began looking at colleges with swim teams.
Remember how I mentioned those superstars who swam club since they were children? Well, that is the kind of kid who goes on to swim college. I didn’t stand a chance of getting recruited. Then I visited Centenary College. The school was small, charming, in-state, and it had a swim team. To my delight, the coach actually agreed to let me swim as a walk-on. Everything fell into place after that. I got accepted, got a scholarship, and trained hard all summer in the pool.
Then I arrived at our first college practice. The other swimmers were intimidating enough before we jumped in–strutting around in size 24 swimsuits, their muscles bulging out like the freaking hulk. Then we got in the pool. I got lapped more times than I could count. And that was in The Slow Lane. To make things worse, we didn’t just swim. No. We had to run across the street and jog laps around a mall. And between sets, we had to press out the pool and do jumping jacks, push-ups, and lunges. After 2 hours, the torture was finally over. Coach called us into a huddle. “Practice tomorrow same time, same place. And we start mornings tomorrow, so be at the gym at 5:45am.”
Obviously I survived to tell this story, but it was not easy. Practicing 3.5 hours a day, 6 days a week, spending weekends away at meets, and spending winter break in Florida training was not always fun. I didn’t even compete my junior year because I was so burnt out and tired of being the underdog in The Slow Lane. The other swimmers were rude to me and talked behind my back, saying I was too slow to be on the team. I never wore under-sized swimsuits and I never looked like the hulk. I never placed in any meets. I simply lacked the years of training they all had on me.
Now that I’ve graduated, I realize that I was right for never thinking it’s all about winning. It doesn’t matter whether I was the star of the team, or the queen of The Slow Lane. Because either way, I was part of something. Not many people can say they were collegiate athletes; but I can. And either way, I developed an appreciation for health and fitness, gained knowledge in proper training and nutrition, improved my work ethic and sportsmanship, travelled, met people, and got into the best physical shape of my life. Now that I’m out of college, I continue to train by not only swimming, but running 5K/10Ks, biking, and weight-training. And compared to most, I am a superstar.