When you meet someone for the first time, you take first impressions. You notice their appearance, tone of voice, body language, outward confidence or inward shyness. You form some impressions. Then, as the conversation goes on, those first visual impressions are backed up by some language, some story. You may learn about what they do for work, where they’re from. Depending on how far the conversation goes, you may learn about some of their hobbies, and through these small discoveries of their unique humanness, you may start to form some larger, deeper understanding of who this person is than those very first surface impressions.
When you meet me, you will certainly notice my hair as one of the first things (it is large and very curly). You may find me unfriendly (many of my closest friends did, at first meeting), or you may not. I am an introvert, particularly when meeting new people, and this shyness (I believe) manifests itself in an initially unfriendly way.
We will continue talking, you will learn that I teach, that I am from Maryland (but heart belongs to Maine), and maybe we will get into those hobbies, those smaller pieces of my identity that really tell the full story of myself. What will be missing from this conversation is the truth that I am a swimmer, at least I was, for 17 years of my life.
Okay, so this is probably not where you were expecting this post to go. But as a former swimmer (“swammer” we clever swim folk like to say), the fact that I was a competitive athlete for 17 years, that most of my waking hours not at school were spent in a pool, and that I woke up at 4:15am repeatedly for swim practices throughout high school, is not something that is immediately a part of my current, daily, lived identity.
Since taking a hiatus from swimming after graduating from college, it is no longer the same presence in my daily life like it once was. I used to be “a swimmer,” I hung out with swimmers — and it was something I was known for. Now, not so much, and it makes me sad.
I know that swimming will always be a part of who I am. I feel happiest when I’m by the water. I will forever feel like I am a part of a special club because of the hours and hours and hours I put in, swimming lap after lap within the same 25 yard span again and again (it takes a certain kind of crazy). And I will continue to swim forever too, if not with as much regularity or intensity as I did in college. So in some ways, I will always be a swimmer. But in other ways, I am not. It is not how I introduce myself, and it is not a part of my daily lived experience.
So, it’s had me thinking — when certain sacred, special parts of ourselves no longer take center stage in our lives anymore, can we still claim to be that thing? Is it different?
I am coaching now, and it is a lovely way of still being a part of a sport and a lifestyle that I love so much without actually having to get up and get in the pool at 6am every morning and spend the rest of the day with goggle marks around my eyes anymore. Today, I spent four hours at a swim meet. I walked in through the locker room, stepped on deck, and felt my heart rush at the familiarity of it all — that rampant chlorine smell, the aquamarine blue of the pool, the swimmers giggling with friends on deck, the call for the timers’ meeting over the loudspeaker, the exhilarating rush of imagined possibility that resets every time you dive off that block.
Perhaps writing this post proves one thing. Even if I am not a swimmer still on the daily, the memories and the love for the sport is still there. It may provide some good writing material for posts down the road…