I started swimming laps in a pool again this week for the first time in probably two years or so, and found myself looking at one of the lifeguards, as she suited up and stretched to get in and swim, thinking, "Hmm..I wonder if I could beat her. She's clearly in better swim shape than I am right now, but I'm curious... if I was in my normal swim shape, who'd be faster?"
Wait, what? Excuse me? Why did I come here again? Didn't I just come to this pool to swim and get back into one of the passions and loves I've had for well-over half my life? Whyyy am I even thinking about this? We're all swimmers here. We're all here because we love to be in the water and know that the land kiiiinda sucks (not really). And besides, what difference does it make who is faster or slower? We're not at a swim meet here!
And that's when I realized that swimmers, or likely anyone who does a sport that is both individual and team, is pretty freakin' weird, and has this incredibly strange habit of turning anyone and everyone who steps, dives, or swims onto/into "our turf" into competition!
I mean it. It could be a 45-year old woman or man. If I'm swimming, and I see them getting ready to get in, I cannot help but wonder what their stroke looks like and how smoothly they move through the water. If they've been swimming their whole lives, or have just picked it up as a way to take care of themselves in their "old age." Or, the most bizarre thing, "Are they faster than I am?" It is such a weird thing we do. (I say we, because I am pretty dang sure I'm not the only one. ... Gosh, I hope not. That'd be awkward...)
This got me thinking, and I figured out that it's because swimming is both a team and an individual sport. We swim for a team (or represent a country, in the spirit of the Olympics), and our place contributes to the overall score of our team's, therefore determining which team wins the meet (swim meets or our "games" for those of you who aren't accustomed to swim terms). But, we are also in the lane (swim lane/calle), by ourselves, racing against the others in the pool (and the clock). This means, that in two-team meets, in every other lane, there is someone from your team. So while we may be racing against the other team's swimmers, we're also trying to beat our own teammates. (Don't anyone try and deny this one! You know you want to beat everyone in that dang pool! Doesn't matter which team they're on.)
So because swimming is both a team and individual sport, we have this weird sense of connection to anyone else who's a swimmer, but also that they are somehow competition. If we meet another swimmer outside the pool area, we're bonded. BOOM, friends, oh my gosh! "Where do you swim? What stroke? Omg, how much does it such to practice in the winter? And, how much longer till the summer Olympics are on?!?" (Even though we're still probably thinking about if we're faster than they are, we bond, because we have the same passion.) But on the deck (pool deck), we're like, "Okay, who's this? Hmm..they look pretty fit. But then again, I'm also pretty fast.. I think that I might be quicker than them. Let's see." And then it's either, "Ok, ok, worthy competitor. I see you." Or, "Yeah, that's right. I've been doing this since I was 8-years old. Year-round? Yep, did that too." (And if we're water polo players, we likely need to separate ourselves from those who "just swim," so we'll scroll, tread, and throw in some head's up laps too.)
We size up anyone and everyone who shows up to swim when we're swimming. We try and figure out if we're faster or slower than them, and when they look like they're an inadequate swimmer, but then get in and start lapping us, we're like, "Ugh. What the heck. It's cool, I'm just here to swim. It's not a race. But, I respect you, good job. You do you."
I'm not sure if this is just the way we overly-competitively-minded people think, but I'm pretty sure it's just what happens when you have grown up doing a sport where you are cheering and screaming for your teammate, gathered around the end of their lane, or even at the block screaming for them to swim if you're doing a relay, but in the next moment you're on your block, pulling your goggles over your eyes, staring ahead at the long, beautiful lane ahead of you with a serious look on your face and focus in your mind, thinking, "Ok, girl/man, it's time. Let's show them what's up."
So yeah, maybe we're a little too competitive in a generally calm, casual setting at the community pools, but hey, you're most likely stepping into a world where we spend most of our time when it's season, so cut us a little break with our stare downs and sense of mine. Either way, I frrreaking love swimming, and am so stoked that I've finally gotten myself back into it! It really is the most comforting place to be (for me), and I'm happy I've returned to my dry-hair, chlorine-smelling-skin, wet suits and towels all over the house, ways of life!
> > circa 2011 < <