I love swimming. I started competing at 6 years old, swam in college, and transitioned to open water marathon swims in the years before starting medical school. As a resident I don’t get to swim as often as I would like, but I take every opportunity available to get a dose of chlorinated endorphins.
Initially going to swim practice was a drag. I wanted to play with my friends after school, not go to swim practice. I used to try to get out of it, but my dad was firm and I dutifully, though a little resentfully, went to practice every day. When I started to get a taste of success by the age of 8, Dad didn’t need to push me anymore. I started double workouts (2 sessions in one day) when I was ten years old. People told me I would burn out, but here I am in my 30s, still at it. In the water I feel strong, powerful, and beautiful. The rest of the world melts away, narrowing to the sound of my breath, the water flowing past, and making the next interval. A lot of creativity and problem solving blossoms during a swimming workout – in fact, it was during a swim session that I had the idea for starting this blog. No matter what else is going on in my life, swimming brings me joy and perspective. My mother once commented that, “You never look as happy as you do when you are in the water.”
With that introduction, I am going to share why I think swimming is The Best, Most Fabulous, Sport Ever. Hopefully I’ll make a convert out of you…or at least talk you into getting your kids involved in this amazing sport!
Reason #10: It’s not a popularity contest.
Swimming is an egalitarian sport. Beyond the clock, there are no judges in swimming. There isn’t a points system or subjective evaluation criteria. There is no “selection committee” for the US Olympic Swim Team. There is no situation where two athletes compete dazzlingly well and someone else decides the winner. It doesn’t matter how pretty you are, how popular you are, where you train, who your coach is, or how smart you are. All that matters is who gets their hand on the wall first.
Reason #9: Swimmers are nice.
Maybe it’s because we spend a lot of time in our own heads, and therefore crave human interaction. Maybe it’s because we’ve been beaten into submission so often by killer workouts and the only thing that got us through was camaraderie. Or maybe it’s because the nature of the sport involves sharing space and getting over the occasional foot tap or arm whack with a “sorry dude!” and an “it’s cool!” Whatever the reason, swimmers are a really friendly lot. We will strike up conversations with pretty much anyone. Complete strangers end up doing workouts together. When we join a new team or training group, we are immediately part of the family. And we love sharing the joy of swimming and getting new people to try this awesome sport.
Reason #8: Swimmers are fun!
Work hard, play hard. When you don’t get much time off, you tend to make the most of the opportunities that arise. Moreover, you have to have a playful disposition to get through the hours of training. Swimming tends to breed outgoing people who aren’t afraid to be a little silly.
Reason #7: Swimming teaches valuable life lessons.
Success in swimming is all about what you put into it. Again, there are no judges or selection committees. Popularity, socioeconomic status, and appearances can’t help you in this sport. If you want success, you have to work hard. You have to overcome obstacles, push through setbacks, and pick yourself up after failures. There’s no one who can do it for you. Swimming teaches you how to set goals and go after them. Swimming teaches mental tenacity, determination, and perseverance. It fosters ambition and competitiveness, the audacity to dream big and the patience to take the multitude of small steps required to get there. It teaches camaraderie and teamwork, trust and faith. Swimming, especially while growing up, is a practice run at life. By the time you arrive on the threshold of adulthood, you have experience setting goals, working hard, balancing commitments, shouldering discomfort, dealing with failure, and refusing to give up. You have grit.
Reason #6: Swimming prepares you to be a Resident.
Honestly, after 15 years of getting up at 4am to dive into a cold pool and workout for 2 hours, waking up at 5am to round is relatively cushy. What, all I have to do is go to work? And I get to keep my warm clothes? Sweet! My husband, also a resident, frequently grumbles about how alert and oriented I am at 5am just moments after my alarm goes off. If you want your kid to be a doc, swimming isn’t a bad way to prepare her for #residencylife.
Reason #5. The pool isn’t a bad place to meet people.
I will refer you back to #9 and #8 as a way of explaining that I have been asked on more dates on the pool deck than any other venue. Swimmers honestly are interesting, nice people. Moreover, when you meet a fellow swimmer, you know you are meeting someone who shares your values and understands your lifestyle. It’s much, much better than meeting someone at a bar.
Reason #4: Swimming lets you travel.
Whether for national competitions, international meets, training trips, or open water swimming events, swimming is definitely a way to see the world. Because of swimming I had visited the following places by the age of 25: Alaska, England, Wales, Scotland, Australia, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, Aruba, Maui, and France. Some of my friends who achieved even greater success in competitive swimming had traveled even more than I by the time they hit their mid-20s.
If you get into open water swimming, you also get to see things most people don’t see. One of the neatest experiences I had was swimming around Treasure Island and under the Bay Bridge in the San Francisco Bay while training to swim the English Channel. Looking up at the underside of the bridge I thought to myself, how many people really get to appreciate this view? One of my 10 year vacation goals is to do a swimming tour of the Greek islands. You can check out an example of these aquatic vacation opportunities here.
Reason #3: Swimming just feels good.
There’s something special about being in the water that is truly restorative. Maybe it’s because our lives begin in the salt water of our mother’s womb. Maybe it’s the fact that swimming is a total body workout that gets the blood pumping and the endorphins flowing. Maybe it’s just the peace that comes from shutting out the rest of the world. Whatever the reason, finishing a swim leaves you feeling wonderful and refreshed, whether you are pushing yourself hard or just doing a few leisurely laps. I enjoy all sorts of exercise and activity – running, high intensity interval training, hiking, yoga, lifting – but nothing leaves me with the same feeling of simultaneous vibrance and languor as swimming.
Reason #2: Swimming is a family sport.
My grandfather was a swimming legend (more on him below). My father swam in college and went on to become a triathlete, and my uncle was also a triathlete, completing IRONMAN Kona despite being worn down by chemotherapy. My mother learned to swim while she was pregnant with yours truly. My sister swam until she transformed into a rowing prodigy in high school. When I was a kid we would show up at open water events and all of us – my grandfather, my dad, my uncle, my sister, and me – would sign up for the races. My childhood revolved around weekends at swim meets, which were basically big social events interspersed with bursts of competition. The younger siblings of my friends were all friends, and the parents of my friends were my parents’ friends.
My husband does triathlons and sometimes comes to the pool with me. My parents still swim, and I often meet up with them at their sports club on weekends. My mom and I grab lanes next to each other – we are ridiculously adorable – and swim next to each other. I am destined to become a swim mom who takes her kids to swim practice and then works out with the master’s team a few lanes over. It’s all in the family 🙂
Reason #1: You can, literally, keep swimming until you die.
As swimming is a low-impact activity, you can continue to swim and even compete well after most other athletes need to give up their sport (how many 90 year old gymnasts do you see?) My grandfather, Gary Weisenthal, was nationally ranked in his prime, and would have competed in the 1940 Olympics as part of the 4 x 100m freestyle relay, were the Olympic Games not cancelled in that year. He competed in Masters Swimming well into his 90s, and was still participating in distance open water races into his 80s. I remember that the first year I competed in the Seal Beach Rough Water Swim 3 mile event at age 13, he completed the 10 mile race at age 81. He was a Masters Swimming All American 20 times. He still holds world records in Masters Swimming for the 100 meter and 200 meter backstroke for age group 95-99, and he was still swimming the week he died at 101 years old. He was an amazing man, beloved by all who knew him, and a true inspiration for me. I always wanted to be like him, and I, too, intend to keep swimming for the rest of my life.
In conclusion, swimming is The Best, Most Fabulous, Sport Ever. It does wonders for the mind, body, and soul, and it is something you can keep doing forever. If you aren’t a swimmer yet, I hope you give it a try sometime – maybe I’ll see you in the water!