Archive for December, 2007

Every Swimmer’s Most Feared Decision: Knowing When to Quit

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

By Jane

When I was a swimmer, the idea of quitting was rather horrible. It has been eighteen months since I last stashed my Fastskin suit in the back of a wardrobe and made my decision not to race again and it was a far easier choice than I’d imagined it would be.

I quit swimming at midday on March 18, 2006. I hadn’t planned on it, but that was the way it panned out. In the morning, I swam in the preliminaries of the 200 yard breaststroke at the NCAA Championships in Athens, Georgia. I didn’t do all that well: I think my time was 2:16.1, but I don’t remember exactly. My best time was, and still is, 2:14.92. My first 100 yards was a 1:04 and things went downhill from there. I’d done all right on the first day of the championships, competing in the 200 IM and recording a time only slightly slower than my best. I wasn’t much of an IMer and had snuck into the 200 IM with a B-cut.

I’m being totally honest here, which is strange for me because I’ve never liked being painfully honest about swimming. For most of my life, swimming validated my existence. An insult to my swimming was a strike right at the heart of who I was. It was as though I had nothing else. Quite honestly, I didn’t really care about swimming anymore when I finally quit. I think I stopped caring about swimming on November 20, 2005, when I qualified for NCAAs. My 2:14.92, swum at the University of Minnesota, wasn’t fast enough to guarantee my place in the NCAA Championships, but it was good enough that I was 99% sure I’d be going down to Georgia in March. In hindsight, that was enough for me. I was getting close to graduation and hadn’t swum a personal best time in the 200 breaststroke since February 2003. Recording a best time in Minnesota was like a gift from heaven.

That swim, in my opinion, made up for a lot of the work and stress and agony I’d gone through. At that point, I started to wind down. Should I have maintained the motivation to swim a 2:13 or a 2:12 at NCAAs? Sure I should have. But now, I finally have the balls to admit that I lost a certain amount of interest once I knew I’d made it to NCAAs. A week before I went to college, I’d expressed the excitement I felt about competing at the NCAA Champs to a fellow swimmer in New Zealand. “Well,” she’d said. “That’s if you make it.”

Finally, I had made it, damnit. However, mentally exhausted and reaching the pinnacle of my physical ability, I’d had about as much as I could handle.

I swam that NCAA preliminary race and got dressed. I doubt I even swam in the warm down pool. A personal best time would have made it back for a night time swim. My time did not. I went out to lunch with my mother and got a bit drunk. We were drinking red wine. I just stated talking and I couldn’t stop. My mother was a runner – a very accomplished runner who represented Great Britain and New Zealand at numerous international competitions. She still holds the New Zealand record over 1000 metres. She understood what I was doing and where I was coming from: I had to talk to someone, but most importantly, I had to talk to myself about how I was done with a sport I’d taken part in since I was six years old. I had to convince myself that it was okay to quit and that I wasn’t a complete loser for calling “Time” on something that (I thought) made me who I was.

Now, I can’t type “goggles” properly. My fingers always type Google, which is indicative of how my life and my career have changed. I now work in search engine optimisation and Internet marketing. There was life after swimming and I needn’t have feared “retirement”, a term I dislike as it’s used far too liberally by people who shy away from the word “quit.” I am not ashamed to use the Q word and I don’t want anyone else to be, either. Knowing when to quit is just as important as toughing it out.

That the end of my swimming career coincided with the end of my college scholarship and undergraduate education was fortunate. However, not given the financial incentive, I probably would have stopped a little earlier. The “high note” to have gone out on would have been after Minnesota. I always told myself that I’d quit after I believed I’d become as good as I was ever going to get. A combination of factors meant that I was not going to get any better. The first factor was that, despite being born with an injury-free spoon in my mouth, I was beginning to suffer from more and more frequent strains in my legs. Not being able to complete a proper breaststroke kick is a big hindrance to swimming good breaststroke and the 200 breast was the only event in which I was ever really competitive.

I’m not trying to encourage anyone to quit, but I wanted to write this for people who want an out but are scared. I know why you’re scared. You’re scared of ridicule from those you leave behind. There is a stigma around leaving the sport. Swimming is all-encompassing activity and when you’re immersed in it, you really believe that it is the only thing that makes your life worthwhile. You hear people talk badly about people who have quit. You are scared about what they’ll say about you. Don’t be.

It doesn’t matter. Once you leave a sport, you must realise that what you left behind ceases to be of any importance. I am getting ahead of myself, but it’s an important point to remember when you’re wondering how people will react to your retirement. You may have lived with these people, breathing swimming like it was precious air during a breathing control set, for years. But once you’re done, their opinions on your swimming don’t mean anything to you.

Another thing you may be worried about is finding something to take swimming’s place. What do you do with that time? More importantly, what do you do with that energy? For me, the energy question was taken care of with running. I found my dream job in order to take care of the extra time. However, the overriding problem is finding something to define yourself. This won’t be a problem for everyone, but it was for me. I had very little self-confidence when I was younger (despite my best efforts to pretend otherwise), but getting better at swimming helped me feel good about myself.

That afternoon in Georgia, I was worried that giving up swimming would result in me giving up a big chunk of my confidence and identity. In actuality, I found that my choice relieved me of a huge burden. Instead of being lost and unsure like I thought I’d be, I could look back on everything I’d done and view it as a whole. It was over, and I could be confident and proud of what I’d done, without worrying about what I still had to do.

All swimmers have at least a small fear of quitting. While there is no guarantee that everyone’s exit from the sport will go as well as mine, there is little to be afraid of. Your life isn’t rendered unimportant once you’re done swimming. You don’t cease to exist. What of those whom you left behind who may have you believe otherwise? Honestly, you’ll forget those snarky poolside discussions about teammates-past in the same way you’ll forget the pain of timed swims, test sets and bad meets. The greatest thing about quitting swimming is that the good memories stay as good and the bad memories fade. I still remember the elation and ecstasy of my swim in Minnesota, just like I remember all the good swims and hard-fought achievements. The horrible practices and dismal performances are distant recollections.

No one can tell an athlete when to stop and many go on too long. Save for the most dense participants, most of us know when our time is up. Do not quit just because you’re about to graduate, turn 18, turn 21, change jobs or do any number of things that constitute a change in your life. Quit because it’s time. Swimming isn’t the safety net you think it is, and you’ll find that you’re more than capable of making something of yourself without a pool, a workout and championship to work towards. The “real world” is pretty awesome. Never be afraid to go out and take a look.

We Endorse

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

By David

Swimwatch is about to embark on a swimming website first. We are going to offer our endorsement of two candidates in general elections about to take place.

If this is not a first then we apologize. It’s just that we have never seen Swim Info or Swimnews or Timed Finals or Texas Swimming hold their hand up and say vote for Bill Smith, he’s our man. There is no reason why they shouldn’t. In fact there is every reason why they should. Swimming is as much affected by who’s running the country as any other activity. If you find that hard to understand, consider this. Was Title Nine political? Did it affect swimming in the USA? And in New Zealand: is the distribution of pokie machine profits political? Does it affect swimming in New Zealand?

It seems silly that swimming websites get all hot and bothered over performance enhancing drugs, the timetable for heats and finals at the next Olympics and where some swimmer is now training and, yet run shy from offering an opinion on who should run the country. Politicians show no such reluctance. When it suits them they dive headlong into the question of drugs in sport and think nothing of using the Olympics to try to get the Russians out of Afghanistan. Well if politicians are prepared to meddle in our patch it is entirely appropriate we should meddle back.

In the United States, one Swimwatch contributor endorses Hillary Clinton. She’s experienced, tough, able, and intelligent. She’s been a fine senator for New York. There’d be no nonsense in the Oval Office with Hillary in charge. But her ability and experience are not the principal reasons for our support. We are disgusted by the sexist bile of her opponents; for example Chris Mathews of MSNBC. He’s turned his nightly Hardball program into an anti-Hillary, anti-woman rant. It’s the worst we’ve heard since Fred Dagg called his girl friend a “grouse looking sheila”. Gender should never be a factor in deciding who is going to be President. But, while there are chauvinists like Mathews out there, it would do him and the USA a power of good to have a woman in charge. Swimwatch’s editor is backing Barack Obama so felt it necessary to mention him in this post, even though it was written by the Clinton faction. Still, since we still do not know who will gain the Democratic nomination, much of this debate is academic, at best.

Bedroom and kitchen bigots like Mathews are intent on keeping women out of the Oval Office. They just cannot abide the thought that there is a woman out there who’s tougher than them. While Hillary’s campaign carefully tries to avoid the gender card, Mathews and the boys are smacking her as hard as they can with every gender stereotype. You should have heard him tonight showering cheap shots on Hillary because she had husband Bill out there on the stump. In Mathews’ eyes Bill was protecting the little woman. The men candidates meanwhile were reported as having loyal wives supporting their warrior husbands. Mathews is pathetic.

Well, 60% of the participants in swimming are women. Hillary is worth a vote even if it is only to show this 60% that achieving anything, even the White House, is possible. She is also worth a vote to show to the 40% of participants that are male that they cannot treat women the way Mathews does and expect to get away with it. Is that a sexist reason for voting? Yes it is, and it’s a bloody good one as well! Oh, and along the way, the US gets a good President.

In New Zealand Swimwatch endorses the current Prime Minister, Helen Clark. Forbes magazine says she is the 38th most powerful woman in the world. She’s been the Prime Minister of New Zealand for eight years and has done an exceptional job. The place is fairly humming along. Unemployment is at a twenty year low of 3.5%. A week ago the government announced a record surplus of $NZ11.5 billion for the 2006 year. Financially, what Bill Clinton managed to achieve in the USA, Helen Clarke has done in New Zealand. Isn’t it strange how all the stuffed shirt conservatives accuse liberals like Bill and Helen of having no fiscal responsibility, when it’s their poster boys like George Bush who start wars that spend their country into insolvency. For fiscal management there’s not much wrong with Helen’s record.

She hasn’t been everything we might have wanted for sport. Athlete’s civil liberties have been put at risk by the legislation passed by Helen Clark’s Government sharply increasing the power of the New Zealand drug agency. Her Government founded and financed the formation of a sport’s funding agency called SPARC. Since its birth that agency has been responsible for a steady decline in the health of New Zealand sport. Lydiard said it would happen and it has. This year alone New Zealand has lost the rugby World Cup, the netball World Cup and the America’s Cup. To be fair to Helen Clark, she has put her hand in her pocket and given sport a heap of money. She has received some pretty awful advice on how to spend it.

Unfortunately we here at Swimwatch can’t vote in either the New Zealand or USA elections. If we could, Hillary and Helen would get our votes.