Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Commitment of Swimming

To non-swimmers, swimming a kilometer a week is an impressive feat - although a kilometer is often more of a slightly long warm-up. These people speak in laps, not meters, and don't really swim laps anyway, they paddle in pools. The language swimmers speak in is recognizably English and yet only intelligible to those well acquainted with swim coaches and their gruelling whiteboard workouts.

Swimmers eat differently, speak differently, smell differently.

The differences between a swimmer and anyone else, when it comes to our favourite chlorinated sport, can be enormous. But if there is one thing that non-swimmers cannot wrap their heads around, it is the epic training schedule.

You wake up earlier than the sun rises and you start getting ready for bed before prime-time on TV is over. You spend hours in that same 50m lane, staring at the same black line, isolated from everyone else by a gulf of water. When you count training sessions, you sometimes forget to mention dryland, another few hours a week spent on the pool deck or in the gym. All this effort, all this training, all for a tenth of a second improvement on your personal best times.

Most don't understand. "Why are you going to the pool twice today?" Twice? This is the third time, actually, you were still asleep when I got home from the first. The temptation, sometimes, is to have a home away from home at the pool, to avoid the "can I actually get off this couch and make it to
training?" doubts that come after flopping on the sofa between training sessions. And so, swimming becomes a bigger part of one's life than just the hours spent in the pool or gym; it becomes a lifestyle.

Nothing in the world, other than your coach and team mates, will ever push you to commit to it. Your friends would rather you came to the party, your parents are proud enough of you, your teachers, lecturers and tutors wish you spent more time on your studies and your boss wants you to focus on work.

When it comes to motivation, you could avoid the external forces and try for another angle, an internal benefit. Health benefits, for instance, may encourage swimming training. And yet, one scarcely needs to be in the pool every day for such laudable perks as improved cardiovascular function or decreased risk of diabetes. Or a swimmer's physique – and yet, there are easier ways to six-pack abs that involve much less chlorine. The commitment of a swimmer that wants to compete and excel goes beyond any sort of motivation other than that very desire for excellence.

The champion swimmer trains to be a champion. They cannot train merely as a hobby, they cannot train simply for health reasons, or aesthetics - the commitment is too much, nothing short of a desire to beat at least yourself in the pool can merit such dedication.

So anyone contemplating taking up swimming competitively, anyone who wants to shine in the pool, has to answer for themselves one question: "do I actually want this?"

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