By Tamsen Simon
17 years ago I swam at the Olympics. I don't swim anymore. Not in the way I would define as "swimming" which would denote consistency, dedication, or focus. I will occasionally jump in and swim an easy 2k meet warm-up. There is a sense of relief to be doing something I effortlessly do well. There also remains an edge of danger to it. I teeter on the precipice of falling back into that competitive realm every time I swim. It would be so easy. So familiar. Nothing like the struggles of learning a new skill and forging my way along an unknown career path.
In my last swim, two weeks ago, I dove off the side of the deck and did a 50-metre pace in 31 seconds. My first thought was, "With a little consistency I could bring that down to something decent." Followed quickly by, "I wonder where that would place me internationally for my age group in a Masters meet?" I went so far as to mention the idea of picking up only morning practices to my husband, also an ex-swimmer, who quickly disabused me of my misguided aspirations. He did it with a look.
There is a good reason I retired from my sport. My body could no longer handle the training load. My mindset of mind over matter could not carry me any further as the physical breakdown took its toll. I was 20 when I retired with chronic shoulder pain. I am incapable of giving less than everything I have and that remains true to this day. I cannot swim leisurely for very long. I begin to travel a path for which I've already reached the conclusion.
I know the effects of physical exhaustion in my body and the reservoirs of mental strength I can access in need. Ultimately, I'm happiest embarking on a fresh challenge. It is interesting to learn new aspects of myself as I grow, but swimming helped define the edges of my personality. It's a relief to revisit my strengths.
Preface: Anyone intimately involved with the chlorine-soaked sport of swimming knows you can use soap, but that shit runs deeper than surface level and stays with you long-term. Like any good relationship it evolves. I've worn many different hats in my lifetime now, but I remain linked to the pool always, even tenuously. And, half a lifetime out of the pinnacle of my athletic career, I've accepted the irrevocably consistent identity of being a swimmer.
Actual Preface: New blog post! We all have an origin story, this is not mine. This is more thoughts on my current relationship with my sport, retired and decades out. Finally, in that place I couldn't imagine through the tears of my retirement day. It gets easier to retire every time.