I've been doing my swim workouts for the past few weeks alongside my kids' swim team. Now, when I say alongside, I mean that I am swimming in the lanes next to them, not working out with them. Because that would look ridiculous. Their warm ups are faster than my all-out sprints. This depressing reality has given me something to think about as I have been pounding lap after lap. Why in the world did I stop swimming?
I was by no means whatsoever an elite, or great, or even good swimmer when I was younger. My father taught me the strokes, he had me swim laps in our neighborhood pool in the early mornings before anyone else was there, he, for lack of a better word, coached me. I loved swimming, I loved swimmers, but it was only a faint fog of a dream for me to ever compete on any level.
My brother was a great swimmer. He did the age group thing, he was an All-American, he was supposed to swim on scholarship in college before a devastating motorcycle wreck threw him off course for many years. And while I never knew him growing up - he and my father had parted ways before I was even born - I knew of him and what a great swimmer he was. My brother was a mythical figure to me, an idol that I worshipped from afar. He was someone I thought of as I swam those laps in the tiny little pool, someone I wanted to know one day, someone I wanted to show my own abilities to. My dream coach, my ultimate cheerleader.
So the closest I ever came to realizing any dreams of competitive swimming was on my high school team. When I decided to join the team, my father tried to talk me out of it. He pointedly told me that I was no good, that all the other swimmers would beat me, and that I would want to quit because I would lose. I never could figure out if that was his version of pushing me and supporting me, or if he was really that afraid that I would fail. It didn't matter, because nobody tells me that I can't do something, especially him. I joined the team anyway. I loved everything about it. I loved practice, I loved my teammates, I loved the meets. Even though I wasn't a "winner" I certainly wasn't a loser, either, and I was living that faded little dream that I'd had, the one that sometimes included my brother showing up to cheer me on at a race.
Before I head down that road of reminiscing about "the good old days" and it begins to seem as if I peaked in high school, let me just stop right there. As I said before, I was never a great, or even a marginally good, swimmer. But I loved it. And now that I am rapidly approaching 40, and since the day around two years ago that I jumped into a pool and began swimming those laps again, I am realizing that there are ghosts that surround me when I am in the water. And I think they are ghosts of regret.
The regret that I feel is that I got out of the water for so many years. Not because I think I could have won races or set records. But because swimming has brought me back to my roots. It has taken me back to those summer mornings when my dad taught me how to do a flip turn, when he schooled me on the proper entry dive, when he taught me how to roll my shoulders when I do backstroke. Swimming makes me closer to him, even though the memories aren't always so great, but they are at least a piece of my history with him, and there is a certain comfort in that. Swimming makes me feel connected to my brother, who lives so far away from me both geographically and emotionally, and with whom I've just never been able to establish the relationship with him that I have so desperately craved all my life. At least we have the pool.
I stopped swimming for a long time. Babies, jobs, life got in the way. But as I have made room in my world for training and racing, I have made my way back into the water. And as I watch my kids do the age group thing, I see them struggle with their love/hate relationship with swimming. I see them hate to practice, but I also see them joyfully talk about what they loved about practice, what they want to swim in the next meet, who they want to beat on their team. And so the connection that I have to the pool deepens. My body might have left, but my heart never did.
I feel like if you truly love something, if it is part of your being, then it never really leaves you. We always come back to what we love. Even my brother, who left the pool for different reasons and for so many years. He's a coach with his own swim club now. My dream coach, my ultimate cheerleader has his own deep connections to the pool.