Learning to swim past the aspiration to succeed

November 17, 2017 — by Connie Liang

Sophomore Connie Liang urges her younger self to drown out the desire for competitive success in swimming and focus on the sport itself

Dear 8-year-old self,

Many years ago, you screamed under the rushing water, desperately shaking your head and tilting your face back for a gasp of air.

Mother was forcing you to wash your hair, and you were terrified of the strange liquid, the liquid that you believed was going to consume and devour you.

A few years after, in 2008, you stood in front of the flat-screen TV, hands plastered on the screen, exulting alongside Michael Phelps as he victoriously rose from the pool and accepted one of his many gold medals at the Beijing Summer Olympics.

A few months later, you managed to persuade your parents to let you take swim classes, and eventually you joined your first team, creating new friendships as well as new competition along the way.

One year ago, you decided to quit club swimming.

Looking back, you should have known that swimming isn’t about being the fastest.

Sure, Ryan Lochte makes dolphin kicking look easy, and Katie Ledecky radiates joy after each and every one of her outstanding races, but in the end it doesn’t matter if you win as many races as they do or if you find as much success as that one other girl has.

If you had allowed yourself to block out the pressure and the voice gnawing inside your head, the voice that resonates most loudly when you are staring at the black-tiled line and glancing at your teammates from the side of your eye, it would have made swimming that much more fun.

The sheer momentum carried on swiftly as you dived in and the camaredire formed with teammates, who pushed you on through the hardest (and conveniently bracketed) set of the day are the true beauties of the sport.

Of course, placing first in your heat and winning a couple of medals here and there never hurts. But when the race to be the fastest member of the team with the most ribbons blinds you from the sport itself, the drive for success becomes a problem.

There is so much more to swimming than your speed, your times or even the swimming memorabilia you have raked in from meets over the years.

It’s true that so many before you have traveled to Far Westerns, Western Zones, Sectionals and to the National Junior Olympics, but your single 2015 Pacific Swimming JOs shirt doesn’t have to sit stuffed ashamedly in the bottom chest of your drawer.

Being proud of your capabilities doesn’t depend on the speed or your ranking compared to everyone else. In fact, if you drown out the competition, maybe you can find pride in yourself and even something much more genuine: the real prize of swimming.

The sport in itself is a continual practice of overcoming obstacles, and the tumultuous waves and pattern of the shortened breath only serve as a reminder that YOU are capable of anything.

This anything doesn’t need to be a future of standing on platforms or waving to thousands of spectators in the center of a grand arena; this anything can be as simple as being able to maneuver the water to your own liking or dipping your head in for longer than a few seconds at a time.

After all, many years ago, you were terrified of the water and pleaded to climb out of the shower; a few years later you learned how to swim longer distances at faster rates.

One year ago, you were drained and decided to climb out of the looming pool.

Your fear of the competition and eventually the sport itself drove you away from the pool, overshadowing the years of hard work and self-improvement.

That’s a little ironic, don’t you think?


Future self

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