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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Times They Are A-Changin'

This past August, I made a choice that I never in a million years thought I would make.


I quit swimming.
As my friends prepare for their conference meet next weekend, I cannot help but be nostalgic, and frankly, sad that I'm not swimming with them this year. I can feel how excited they are starting to get. Their new tech suits just came in, they're tapering, and next Tuesday, they're off to Birmingham.

As I feel their overwhelming strength and excitement building, it's hard to not be a part of that. Swimming literally formed me into the person I am, and I will forever be grateful to the sport that taught me discipline, teamwork, and perseverance, and to the sport that gave me my best friends and some amazing coaches and mentors.

If you've been reading MM for a while, you know that in April, I found out about a few medical conditions that have really impacted my day-to-day life. Although dealing with those has been a challenge, I want to be clear that I could have swam this year. I could have done it, but it would have been even more of a daily struggle, particularly because the medication I am on has some pretty brutal side effects. I don't want to make it seem like I resigned out of absolute necessity - I didn't. Rather, I made a choice, based on what I knew at the time and based on what I knew was up ahead, medically.

For a while after I quit, I really struggled with justifying what I had done. I felt awkward around my now former teammates, and although my coach still let me be involved, I felt distant from everyone. Communal suffering truly does bond people together. It was also difficult because I never publicized why I wasn't swimming. I never sent out a mass email or sat everybody down to tell them "hey, here's the deal, ask me questions if you have any." I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I, someone who had constantly vowed to myself that I would never quit, never back down, never surrender to whatever the sport threw my way, had finally hung up my cap and goggles. I had told myself that come hell or high water, or really, hell or shoulder injury, that I would keep swimming, no matter what. I never in a million years thought that 3 weird medical conditions would really make me rethink my unwavering commitment to the sport I loved so much.

I soon found myself looking for "my place" again, as I wasn't deeply ingrained in something anymore. It was a bizarre feeling to know that I was no longer a part of a team. I wasn't part of their daily grind or their inside jokes, and that has been a very weird experience, particularly because the Rhodes team is so close and frankly, very family-like. I have to give them credit though, they have made every effort to include me and make me feel like a part of the team. My feelings are in no way reflective of them - in fact, they are the reason I still care about the sport at all. They are the reason it was so hard for me to choose between swimming and my health, and they are the reason I swam injured for 4 years.

By the end of my career, I wasn't exactly... good. My times had seen better days. I largely attribute this to my injury, and now, my medical issues, but if there is one thing I really regret, it's not knowing that my last race was my last race. I didn't know when I wrapped up my 200 back that I probably wouldn't dive off the block again, or squeeze into a suit with compression powers that would make Spanx jealous. I didn't know that I wouldn't be working out for over 20 hours a week anymore, and I didn't know that I would miss being a part of a huge, crazy, dysfunctional team so much.

However, for all of these painstaking negatives, I must concede that there are some good things that have come out of my "retirement." My GPA went up by over half a point last semester, and I never in my wildest dreams imagined that my grades could improve by that much. My health has certainly improved overall, and although I still have a long way to go before I conquer these pesky conditions once and for all, I think that alleviating some of the physical and mental stress from my life has helped ease the burden of it. Also, I never would have run for KD council if I was still swimming, and although being on council is a really tough job, it has already proved itself immensely rewarding and I have already learned so much about myself and leadership.

What I have struggled with the most is coming to terms with it all. It's a mix of emotions, because I still struggle to rationalize that I actually quit. There are few things I hate more in life than quitters, and it has been hard to stomach my own hypocrisy. I have found myself questioning if I was even ever that dedicated in the first place, or if I should have just sucked it up and sacrificed my health and my grades for it.

For lack of a better phrase, it sucks. I miss swimming, and there are a lot of things I would do to be able to make up for the season I've lost and to be back in the pool with my best friends. However, even though I have struggled to come to terms with my decision, I do firmly believe I made the right one. Lab tests and GPAs don't lie, and I really do think that allowing myself more time in my day, more sleep, and overall less stress has helped in non-tangible ways. I think it's important that in this era of extreme competition and demand that we remember that we are only human, and that we can only do so much without simply losing it.

This year has been yet another one of drastic change and challenges. I'm coming to terms with my new normal, and slowly learning that one of the few constants in life is change. I am still so deeply proud of all of my teammates and friends for how much they have accomplished this season. They have put in so much time, effort, and hard work both inside the pool and outside, and their dedication is truly commendable. I know that they will accomplish amazing things when the starter beeps next Wednesday for the 800 free relay. Roll Lynx, roll.

If any part of this post was unclear or confusing, it's because there is more to this story - medical information -that I have chosen not to publicize on the internet. I have published what I feel comfortable disclosing, and if there are holes in the story, it is to maintain my personal privacy.

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xx, Victoria