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Every swimmer has felt the pull. If you've ever been in this sport, you know what I mean. There is a certain call in your blood whenever you're around a pool. It's what makes us get up for early morning practices during the summer when the world is asleep. It's what keeps us going for the long days spent at swim meets. It's the part of you that says, "Keep going! You can do it!" when every part of your body is on fire and you're screaming for air. All swimmers know what this pull, what this call is. It's our personal Siren song. But unlike Odysseus, we can't block this out of our ears. It's there every time we hear water running. It's there every time the smell of chlorine wafts to our nostrils. We can't unhear it. Somedays I think that if I knew what I was getting myself into, I wouldn't have started. After all, who enjoys 5 AM practices and doubles on the holidays and pushing yourself so hard you think you might die? But I then I remember all the things I love about this sport. I love the water itself, how clean and cool it is. I love the friends I've made, because my swimming friends feel truer than my other friends. I love my coaches. I love the long sets. I love the feeling that I've accomplished a goal. Most of all, I love standing on the blocks right before a race, because it's the moment where anything can happen and everything is possible. Siren songs have a negative connotation to them. And I think there are some good reasons for that. Yes, swimming is hard. Ask any swimmer. Ask any coach. But then ask them why they swim, and they'll tell you it's because they couldn't imagine doing anything else. The siren call has blocked everything out except the swimmer, the water, and the ever-ticking scoreboard. And you know what? We wouldn't have it any other way.
Contributed by Theresa Alef
I was swimming on my own one morning. There was no pressure, no coach to walk up and down the pool deck to scrutinize me, and no one to interrupt me. Save for a few old folks water-walking in the next lane (old timers always have something to say about their glory days) and a lifeguard, a good friend, on deck. I felt surprisingly motivated for long distance freestyle swimming, so I hopped into that familiar chlorine water, and began my spur-of-the-moment 6x500 yard freestyle set. At that moment, I rather wished my coach or a team mate was there; this motivation for long distance was a miracle for a pure sprinter like me who mumbles and groans at any set consisting of more than 50s. My strokes were long and stretched, relaxed. Everything was quiet underwater, muffling all the noise of life outside, as if time had stopped in this waterworld. Every thought in my mind was focused, in the zone, each movement feeling like in slow motion; swinging my arms over the surface of the water, fingers just barely skimming over the top, hand entering with a soft pat, anchoring, engaging my transverse abdominis, feeling the connection of all those muscle tissues down from my right fingertip to my left toe, pulling through with my scapula and latissimus dorsi, then repeating the same process with my left arm. In this meditative state, each movement was an automatic response to my thoughts, a chain reaction from neuron to neuron, and it was as if I could feel each molecule of water move around my body, reacting to my body's actions. With each 500, all of this became natural, an instinct. My mind was now detached from my body, and I realized how blank it was, white, a clean slate. In some ways, it was almost frightening, how my body knew what to do and how to do it without a single thought. My body flip-turned without fail; it breathed every three strokes; it did everything I needed, without my asking. The splash and whirl of the water around my ears like a lullaby, the sight of the tiled pool floor I spent 10 years staring, the satisfying dull ache in my shoulders and lungs, the coolness of the water - all of that was home. In so many ways, although a bit awkward I admit, I felt like a fetus inside a mother's womb. Floating, breathing, living. So blank and simple, yet so complex. My mind, body, and soul felt at ease. No other place can wipe away my stress and troubles so effortlessly, with something as simple as a freestyle stroke. I touched the wall, and realized that in 45 minutes, I, a sprinter, had accomplished 6 500s, and was hardly out of breath. In fact, I hardly remembered any of it, like a dream. I felt renewed, fresh, as if I had just gotten up from a 9 hour sleep. My lifeguard friend smiled and asked how the distance set went for the sprinter. I replied that I simply didn't remember. He told me I was crazy. Maybe I am. I will never say I'm normal. What kind of sane sprinter would forget about a distance set and enjoy it? Well, one that loves swimming, for starters. And one who has chlorine inscribed in her DNA. This kind of feeling goes for any athlete out there that suddenly realizes how perfect their sport is for their existence. I think that there are too many cases where athletes are only athletes because society, family, and/or friends say they are. To be a true athlete, you must enjoy your sport as much as you enjoy the air in your lungs, and to feel as if you would die without it.
Contributed by Katie Akane Kaestner