it’s my anniversary! (round two)

As the post below so graphically illustrates, I am celebrating my one-year anniversary of retiring from the sport of swimming.  While my previous post focuses on all the great things I’ve done since 2010 NCAA’s, I also have lots of other reflections on my relationship with swimming.

The Virginia women’s swim team was at the 2011 NCAA’s this weekend, and as a typical S’Women alum, I was following the results closely.  I was so proud of the girls’ 13th place finish, as I know how difficult a meet as fast and intimidating as NCAA’s can be.  But what hit me even more was the Facebook statuses the girls put up each day–things like, “Family Forever” and “Last race as a HOO” and even “Last meet as a part of the best team ever.”  Reading them, I felt a wave of emotion come over me as I yearned to be back on that team, racing not for myself but for the teammates cheering me on.  If there is any one piece of advice I could ever give to a high school swim recruit about to start college, it would be to appreciate your team ever single day, because there is nothing in the world closer than that group of girls.

Since transplanting myself into a new, semi-unknown area, I have discovered that making friends is hard.  I have always had a built-in support group for me where ever I go, a group of girls just waiting to be my friend simply because I do what they do.  Swimming is a sport that transcends personalities– two people who’s paths would never cross otherwise are united by the grittiness of the sport.  Naturally, there are girls who are not the best of friends, but you respect each other for leaving every ounce of strength in the pool every day.  Now, I feel lost without that bond that I had with my swimmer friends.  How will I ever find a new best friend if I don’t know how they would swim 30 100’s on 2 minutes?  A set like thirty ones told me everything I needed to know about a person: if they were slow and steady; if they could persevere; if they fed off competition; if they were encouraging; if they were excited by testing the limits of their body; if they vomited easily.  I realize now, one year removed, how swimmers are all on the same crazy mental path, and it is that knowledge that makes swimmers so instantly comfortable with each other.  I also think that the fundamental team aspect of swimming made having friendships so much easier, because it didn’t matter if someone was gay, a minority, a Republican, a foreigner, a sorority member, an only child, a slut, a Muslim, tattooed, overweight, injured, a Rhodes scholar, a soldier–all anyone cared about was whether that person was going to swim their heart out for the team.  That’s it.  That’s all you could judge someone on.

I miss that.  I miss being on a team where I knew people counted on me and I could count on those people.  I feel very lucky to have been a part of something like that for 4 years, but I think it has crippled me in the friend-making department ever since.  I want that immediate connection with someone, where I know within two seconds that the most important thing in each of our lives is the same exact thing.

After Fran died, I watched from DC as my team in Charlottesville weaved themselves together into a pillow of support for Claire.  I saw them mold themselves to her needs, buoying her up as one collective life-saver, trying with every fiber in them to protect her from any other hurtful thing in the world.  I witnessed a group of people come together as I never have before, even in those inspirational sports movies, and I missed it.  Nothing is more powerful than the love of people who have no obligation to love you, and I could practically see the waves and waves of love flow over Claire and her family from the UVa swimming pews at Fran’s funeral, people who without swimming would probably never have known the Crippen family.

In the stands at ACC’s, I openly cried when Claire won the 400 IM.  Nobody deserved that win more than Claire.  I don’t know what she would attribute it to, but I would guess she’d say something about the tremendous support she received from her UVa teammates.  She will have that bond with those girls for the rest of her life.

I am absolutely thrilled to be celebrating my one-year anniversary today.  There is no doubt in my mind that I left the swimming arena at exactly the right time in my life.  However, I will always miss the powerful connections I had with the girls I swam with, which have been made even more remarkable to me as I venture out looking for friendships with people who don’t even understand what breastroke is.  There are more things than I would have thought that I miss about swimming, but the biggest one is the human relationships that were so easily accessible to me.



One Response

  1. AMEN. I miss being with a whole bunch of people who UNDERSTAND me without any effort! Also, it is nice to have an outlet for energy and goal setting and all that.

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