Swimming Doesn't Have to Be Toxic
If you are a swimmer reading this, I can guarantee you will relate to this post.
Today, I want to talk about some of the unspoken truths behind the sport that we are in, specifically the experiences that come with being a “strong” female athlete.
Swimming has always started with ourselves, and our willingness to push and improve our own skills. Swimming is ultimately an individual sport where we train our bodies to get stronger so that we can beat our own times and other components. Unlike other team sports, the “team” part in swimming comes from how well we can collectively score points and beat other teams.
Yes, we may work as a team to push one another in training to reach our limits, but at the end of the day this sport comes down to our own individual performance, and how that performance contributes to scoring points.
By the nature of this sport, there is an abnormally high level of pressure on individual performance. Although swimming is supposed to be a positive and rewarding experience, it can easily turn toxic or unenjoyable when in the wrong environment.
When in the thick of things, it becomes easy to feel treated like your life or identity revolves around your performance as a swimmer. As a former Division 1 college swimmer, at times this negativity has become a reality and I’m here to talk about it.
Last year, during my final swim season as a senior in college, I had a virus for 2 and a half weeks. I was locked in my apartment fighting one of the toughest sicknesses I have ever encountered.
As a Division 1 college swimmer, missing 2 weeks during the thick of the swim season is a huge challenge. October means I was in the chaos of meets to compete in, training sessions to make, midterms to pull off, and in my situation, working on Freestyle Swimwear to prepare for the first launch of my business.
I attempted 3 swim practices over this 2 week period, where I found myself waking up at 5 AM to swim a set of 6x300’s freestyle having coughed my head off all night.
With this engraved toxic pressure to “fight through things” and to be “mentally tough”, I ended up causing a lung infection. I felt the pressure to “get through” things and to be the strong athlete that I am. This is not the first time something like this has happened to me during my career as a swimmer.
One thing I am realizing after all this time is that silently pushing through extreme sickness and pain does not mean you are mentally strong. What takes mental strength is to allow yourself to take a step back and to realize it is wrong to be influenced to rush recovery to get back into shape.
Being on such a strong college swim team surrounded me with seemingly bulletproof women. At times, I felt like we were all so programmed to never talk about our “pain” and to be “strong for one another” that we ended up mentally damaging ourselves. I feel the culture created in swimming where we have to be strong in all angles to extreme measures, only backfires.
Between being talked down to by coaches, forcing toxic positivity when exhausted, and ignoring pain, this is a culture that cannot be sustained. As someone who has been swimming for 15 years, I have become entirely burnt out from this behavior.
As someone who has recently finished swimming, what I want and hope for is for other women in this sport to be able to create a shift in this culture.
This starts by one, acknowledging the issue when something may start to feel unhealthy, and two, being unafraid to speak one's mind.
I hope to see a change someday, I hope to inspire other women to take charge of themselves, and I hope for there to be a shift within the destiny of the sport of swimming.