The one where I hang up my goggles

I’ve tried to write this post about three times over the last two weeks, and I think I’m finally ready to get down to business.

My last swim meet – EVER – was a week and a half ago. I knew going in that it was our last dual meet of the season, so the season would be over. Being a senior, that would mean the end of my competitive swimming career. (Of course I could go on and do Master’s swimming as an adult or as part of a triathlon, but this is the end of the line for me as far as swimming “as a job” is concerned.)

The week leading up to the meet was a mix of a thousand emotions, and it didn’t really hit me that it would be my last meet until I was actually there. Rationally, I knew. But my heart didn’t know it yet. When we arrived the day before the meet at the pool to warm-up, I dove in and just felt every stroke for what it was – I didn’t try to make any predictions of the times I would swim based on how I felt. I didn’t try to “fix” my mental lack of focus. I just enjoyed the warm-up and felt present for everything else that is a part of an away swim meet: the bus ride to the hotel, crossing your fingers for a good roommate, watching bad reality television, going to the team dinner and eating lots of carbs, getting to sleep early and then having breakfast as a team in the morning before heading off to the pool for the meet. For each of these I had a sense that it would be my last, and so was able to make very concrete memories of each experience to look back on.

I knew that the one thing my life had revolved around for the last sixteen years was coming to a close, and that these experiences would matter to me, and that I needed to retire the same way I started – with a love for the water and a passion for competing. But I needed to finish with what I’d learned in the last year – that swimming is just something I do and I will continue to do great things when it is over. That I need to carry myself with the dignity and self-respect I’ve learned. And that I need to smile and laugh and cry when I feel it.

My first two races are really a blur now – I was on total autopilot, trying not to feel anything. They went okay, but my speed definitely was not where it had been in the past when I swam my best times. I knew I was going to have to work to pull off a great race in my next one; towards the end, when my legs said they couldn’t kick anymore and my lungs screamed for air, I told them to shut it – this was the last time they would feel it and we were going to finish it. I scored in the event and my time was decent, but I felt the best about the heart I showed at the end of the race.

After that race, I warmed down with a couple of laps and went to rest on our team’s bench before my last two races. And suddenly, it hit me – more than just rationally. Tears started rolling down my face slowly as I fully understood what was going on. I thought about how much strength and courage it took not to give up swimming for the first fourteen years of my career, but then also not to give up in the face of illness and hardship. Though I was never the same swimmer I was before my eating disorder, I did not let my eating disorder or anything else take away the end of my career and finished it out with dignity, which may seem trivial but means so much to me. I got to finish on my terms, not my eating disorder’s. I am so blessed to be able to say that after only beginning recovery about a year ago.

I was sad, and I cried silently for about five minutes. One of my best friends on the team, who also was in her last meet, shared a look with me – but we both knew there were no words. Going into my last race, I just tried to make a concrete memory of the fluid movements and swim gracefully. I was swimming the 100 fly so it’s very dolphin-like and graceful to begin with, but I’ve never been known for my gentleness as a swimmer…more for my intensity and power 😉 I think that my broad butterflyer’s shoulders have a lot to do with that. After the 100 fly, a few of my best teammates were behind my block and hugged me as I got out. My coach came over and hugged me, said he was proud of me and that I had overcome so much adversity to finish it out. I had tears in my eyes and told him I couldn’t believe it was all over. Eventually, the meet ended and I went over to talk to my family in the stands. I could tell both my parents had been crying and got to see all the pictures my two sisters (who never come to my meets) had taken. I received congratulations from many parents, and left the pool with a sense of satisfaction and relief.

Yes, I felt some sadness – but I knew that there was so much more to look forward to, so much that the next chapter has to offer. I have so may great opportunities in the works already and have already found a new love – yoga.

Last week, I signed up for our campus’s fitness class membership which allows you access to over 65 group classes/week – including many different yoga classes, spinning class, kickboxing…you get the idea. I went to a yoga class and loved it. I went to a spinning class, which I definitely abused last year during my disorder, and I have to say I honestly was not a fan. I do like spinning classes, but right now I want to feel like I’m giving my body a gift by exercising – not punishing it, like I was obligated to do everyday with swim practice.

So…I’ve been doing yoga about 4 times a week, and I want to run a 10k in april and have been running a little for that. But I check in with myself on a daily basis and make sure that the exercise is something I want to do, something that makes sense – not something I feel compulsive about or I feel obligated to do. There have been a few days mixed in there where I haven’t done anything 🙂 and I don’t feel bad about it. I don’t want to fight my body anymore. I deprived it, punished it, and pushed it too hard for long enough. I know that now is the time for me to make peace with my body once and for all, and yoga is helping me do that. So, I’m sticking with it 🙂

As sad as swimming ending was, I am so glad it’s over because not only do I have time for yoga now…I have time to do my classwork without feeling so much pressure, I have time to read for pleasure, I have time to watch tv and catch up on blog reading. I just have more time and I really appreciate it and take advantage of it, trying to make the most of the life I have. The first four weeks of this semester have flown by, and it is only a matter of time before undergrad is over and I’ve moved on from life at Cornell.

Life is going to change a lot, and I think that will be reflected here, too 🙂 Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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3 Responses to The one where I hang up my goggles

  1. Sarah says:

    Kim,

    Congrats on completing your swimming career! That’s a HUGE milestone and your coach is absolutely right that you should be so proud of yourself for overcoming such adversity to still be there. You’re amazing!!

    I also love how you mentioned that there are many other great things waiting for you besides swimming. This is SO true. You are a swimmer, but you are not just a swimmer! You have so many more gifts and talents and now have the time and energy to explore whichever ones you choose. You are valuable whether you’re in the water or not because you are YOU. : )

    Love ya, girl!
    Sarah

  2. Shells says:

    Hiiiiii!!!

    Found your blog through Sarah’s (muchfruit). I’m a “retired” swimmer myself, now in grad school and still trying to figure out if I’m still an “athlete” or if I’m a “scientist” or what the heck being both means and how to balance my goals for each (I turned into a runner and am dabbling in triathlons).

    This post just really hit me, because I can recall my own experiences mirroring yours at meets, on the pool deck, and the random downtimes where it just hits you. The last post-meet dinner, the last bus ride, the last time doing that pre-meet cheer.

    I am super impressed and inspired by your self-awareness when it comes to exercise. You totally deserve to enjoy physically and mentally the exercise you pursue after the season, as well as the extra time to be with your friends!! Good luck, and HAVE FUN!!

    • Kim says:

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂 Being a retired swimmer is definitely weird but i’m enjoy the newfound freedom. Went to a spinning class this morning, yoga, etc. and I only go if I want to! It’s so nice to be able to *choose* exercise instead of having to..

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