SWIMNEWS ONLINE: May 1996 Magazine Articles

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Katharine Dunn

To swim or not to swim, that is the question. Though my inquiry may not seem as weighty as the original Shakespearean reflection, to me it is no less of a dilemma. What began for me as a bi-weekly after school activity over 14 years ago quickly turned into a major commitment and a way of life. Competitive swimming has helped shape my identity since I was seven years old. How can I possibly think of quitting the one thing in my life that has changed me more than I could ever fathom, and given me infinitely more than I could ever hope to give back?

I often find myself scanning my bedroom for things in it that are unrelated to swimming. The fact is, almost everything I own, be it a poster or a CD, and everything I am, I owe to this incredible sport.

However, for the first time in my life, I can see beyond the realm of an eight lane, 25 meter tank of water. I envision myself without chlorine-infested hair and skin. I picture a world where morning begins at sunrise. Most of all, it is the thought of achieving success in something besides a sport that excites me. Yet it is increasingly difficult to let go of the past.

"Swimming is life." That is how I and most of my friends in age-groups felt as we plastered goal times and Alex Baumann posters on our bedroom walls. I ate, breathed, talked, dreamed swimming. My family often grew weary of my obsession with the pool and its domination of my life. I grew tired of it myself. But every summer I would get a break just long enough to remind me that I was incomplete out of the water.

My swimming friends have always been the most important people to me. Any athlete can appreciate the intense bond felt between teammates who train hard, and play hard, together day after day. Swimmers are undoubtedly the most fearless, rowdy and team-spirited athletes around.

I have committed to memory dozens of practices where I felt like I was flying. With every pull I was getting stronger. There was never a hesitation, doubt or fear that entered my mind. I will forever cherish those days. An academic victory has yet to be tantamount to those feelings, but I hope that will soon change.

Growing up, the swimming world was my surrogate family. When my pubescent hormones raged and my parents were no longer my friends, the pool was my refuge. When my boyfriend and I were fighting, swimming was an outlet for my anger and tears. Scream as loud as you can underwater, no one will hear you.

At an age when other kids were coasting through high school dazed and confused, I had a focus. I was exercising regularly and traveling at least once a month. I learned how to manage my time and work with others. I have experienced feelings of euphoria and pride, as well as extreme frustration and pain. I have been a winner and a loser, and have learned to handle both. I have made the best friends I will ever have.

When I was tired, lazy or sore, the pool would call my name, enticing me to dive in and meet its challenge. I would always go and give 100% at practice, vainly trying to 'beat the clock'.

When I entered the swimming world, I worshipped the older and much faster swimmers and dreamt of becoming like them. All of a sudden, I was one of them: the older swimmer whose aged wisdom through experience is supposed to serve as encouragement for the younger generation. But the intense passion I once felt for competitive swimming has now subsided. I am no longer driven by a fervent desire every time I set foot on the pool deck.

Certainly, the idea of getting one more best time or winning one more race is alluring. But my heart, mind and body all have to be in accordance, yet today, when I think of swimming, they are at odds.

Unlike before, the call I hear these days resounds not from the four walls of the pool, but from a manifold of places. I have yet to pinpoint my direction, but I feel as though I am on the right track. I have idealistic dreams and indefatigable determination in my favour. Will the next phase of my life present to me as many opportunities for growth as swimming has? I am uncertain and a bit frightened, but eager to proceed.

Fourteen years after I first joined a competitive swim club, I am on my way out. Forget the countless hours of grueling training and anxiety-ridden competition.

Retiring from this sport is the hardest thing I have ever done.

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