My youngest daughter has been a competitive swimmer for at least 10 of her 16+ years on this planet. It is coming to a rather sorrowful end.
To fully understand, you have to realize this is a kid who would rather swim than eat. And when I say swim, I don’t mean it in the sense understood by most people on this planet. No, this is getting up at 5 a.m. winter and summer mornings to swim lap upon lap upon lap upon lap and then doing it again that night until 10 p.m. And the jobs she’s held as a teenager? Teaching swimming lessons and being a lifeguard. In fact, the only thing that might compete with swimming during her teenage years is sleeping.
She was never going to swim in the Olympics or anything like that. Still, by age 15 she was consistently in the top 10, if not top 5, in the state in her events and swam in several regional and national events. Unfortunately, as she seemed to be hitting her stride in the fall of 2006, she came down with mononucleosis. She missed months of practice and basically an entire “short course” season (roughly October through April) in a sport where conditioning is key. Despite that setback, she spent last summer’s “long course” season (June through August) working her way back despite the fact her times had regressed while her peers had continued to improve. Her attitude was far better than mine ever would or could have been, particularly given that her prior times often left her competing in faster heats than her more recent times reflected.
While still not back to prime form, things were looking a bit more normal by the time this fall’s short course season rolled around. Then came more bad news. Knee problems that have nagged her for several years got to the point the orthopedist said she had to quit swimming. Despite taking the news hard, in short order she cut a deal with her physical therapist that he would get her knees in good enough condition for her to at least swim a couple events in this weekend’s state meet. Unable to practice between then and now, it wouldn’t be a pretty finale but at least her competitive career would close in the water rather than a medical building.
As too often happens, the college of life has other ideas. Thinking she might have the flu, my wife took her to the doctor Wednesday. The diagnosis? Another bout of mononucleosis. Like anyone that age, she feels she’s being cheated of her last hurrah — the incentive she used to get through physical therapy and to help cope with her sense of loss. That even a bittersweet ending is turning sour is disheartening, to say the least. To me, though, her devotion to something she loved and the way she’s handled her setbacks say more for her than all the medals and ribbons she’s accumulated over the years.
When we’re in the water, we’re not in this world.
Gertrude Ederle, WomenSports magazine (May 1977)