I rummaged through my closet, looking for a worn-in tee suitable for sleep. I had been sporting my birthday suit in bed all week as a result of consecutive reckless nights during my return to Kansas City. Fast-forward to Sunday, the last night I would be resting my dehydrated body on the familiar twin-size I’ve been returning to since high school graduation.
As I picked out the pajamas I realized my collection of tops dated back to 2005, a period in which both my swimming career and body were in peak condition. Every design of the dozens of t-shirts stacked inside my closet read something along the lines of “Sectionals”, “Invitationals” and my old team’s slogan; “Commitment to Excellence”. By no means was I in the running for the Olympics, but I used to feel pretty badass qualifying to swim in the same meets as Michael Phelps way-back-when.
I stepped out into my room, noticing little differences since the day I left for my freshman year of college. The walls are decorated with dated championship titles, plaques and medals of my early accomplishments. The faux-silk ribbons draping down my cork board symbolized the result of an agonizing training program and a dedicated athlete. These awards once elevated my self-esteem with pride, but what do they mean now?
Now, they are memories of a devote physical passion from my adolescence. While my personal swimming career floats in and out of consciousness, it’s my swimming career as a process in which I continue to relive. And I’m not alone, as I have an entire community of retired swimmers that continue to support each other. Just this time, we’re fully clothed.
See, my childhood room isn’t completely filled in my own selfish memorabilia, it’s mostly covered in photos. Photos from a discontinued digital camera, with a weight and design similar to a brick. Photos taken before iPhones, before the Selfie. These photos are a pure representation of the love and joy my friends shared throughout high school, and continue to share today.
Sure, a handful of the photos of my swim friends are taken in our suits, post-race, faces red, hair wet. But the photos which trigger a greater emotion are taken in my basement, post-bottom-shelf-vodka-shot, faces red, cups wet. Whether we were causing trouble with our parents or getting kicked out of practice, we stood up for each other despite the raging teenage angst.
We ranged wide in speed, zip codes, family income, political upbringing, sexual orientation, academic performance… practically every social difference besides race. Keep in mind this is a swim team I’m talking about. And though the majority of the swimmers were privileged white kids, our performance directly reflected hard work and a little natural talent. The water never cared how much money your daddy made or how pretty you were, all that mattered was who touched the wall first. We entered a ruthless sport, less of a game and more a matter of time.
We entered an incredible sport, one which teaches discipline and self-perseverance. We trained together, but raced against. Our morning practices ended before the sun had risen and our hair stayed wet until our return to the pool in the afternoon. We became invested in each other’s lives as much as we became invested in the sport.
We may not be swimming any longer, but we have earned quite the ROI. From college application referrals to job offers, the network of athletes is a powerful one. As for me, my friendships are my greatest assets. Most of my old teammates have separated from their hometown, only to grow more appreciative during their returns.
We have lived abroad, fell in love, started families and businesses, all in a matter of years since swimming in the suffocating pool we once congregated at on a bi-daily basis. We went through hell together, all to prepare for life alone.
We will continue to go through a different hell called credit card debt (and other millennial stressors). Though this time avoiding such obstacles aren’t as simple as skipping practice. But this time, we can reflect on what we have achieved in the past, knowing nothing could be worse than a three-hour practice on Saturday morning
. This time, we can be a Facebook message away from a support system, from dozens of people who will respond with a loving text, or at least a smart-ass comment to make you laugh.
Our old swim team wasn’t made of the nicest people, but made of the best people. We continue to congratulate one another on our accomplishments, leaving swim-talk out of the conversation. We have much to be proud of, and much to look forward to. After all, we are forever indebted to the Commitment to Excellence.