After seven years of blood and tears and near death at times, I finally came to realize what it means to be a swimmer. Five years ago, I retired from the competitive arena of swimming. Today, I continue to assist my coach back in our hometown.
According to the eyes of many, swimmers are ‘mere athletes wearing expensive Speedo swimsuits or arena goggles’ who play in the pool like a bunch of sardines and display their Kellan-Lutz-like six pack abs or their slim, Jessica-Biel-like figures. But before you become a swimmer, you have to swim and bleed. Before you become one, you have to experience disappointment, muscle cramps and soda deprivation (it’s extremely excruciating).
When I first entered Dadiangas Torpedoes Swimming Team, I was worried. Coach Harry was so intimidating I thought he was going to kill me. And he did. There were times I couldn’t keep up with the pace. I was too relaxed. I had never pressured myself that much in the past. Soon though, I began to embrace the “imminent death” we had to endure every day of training. The training was not just about winning and dominating the arena. Coach believed that swimming was not just conquering the waves in a race, but battling the tides of life. He was training us not only as swimmers of the pool, but as champion swimmers of life. He taught us how to set goals and discipline our mindset. Truthfully, that was the biggest challenge of all. I began asking myself – How will I conquer life after I get out of this pool? How will I endure painful and breathtaking events? How will I reach the finish line with flying colors?
The answer is fear. Fear is what makes us and breaks us swimmers. In the pool and at competitions, we fear that we won’t break our time and win the championship; we fear being surpassed by other swimmers in other lanes; we shiver with the fear of not being able to perform well; we fear that we might disappoint those people who believes in us. We fear that we might fail.
Years after I quit, I finally realized that fear drove us. There were times we had let fear define us; but there were also moments when we defined our weaknesses with our strengths. Just so in life, there are times we fail, but there are also times we win.
The greatest lesson of all that has stayed with me and will for the rest of my life is attitude. Swimming taught me how to bear pain and live with it. It taught me how to catch up with my breath even at the point of total exhaustion. After many years, I finally realized that we don’t live in the movies. Tides and people drag you down. Physical, emotional and mental pain can break you and cause you to lag, but it’s all about endurance and perseverance.
To all of the swimmers out there, continue to be the best of who you are and can be. To all swimmers who have stopped, never forget the ideals the sport has instilled in us. We may be retired but are never expired! To all of the coaches and assistant coaches, let us continue volunteering with you not just for physical gain but for a holistic one. To all of the parents out there, we thank you for always believing in us. Swimming is not just a sport but a way of life. I am one of many living testaments to this. And to all the people who never got the chance to look into a swimmer’s life, I encourage you to. We do not just swim and exist in the fast lane. We live in the fast lane.
By Gabrielle Arizala is a member from the Philippines, and a regional intern at the WYA Asia Pacific office.