I want to start by saying that most older teen female swimmers HAVE bodies. They have hips, thighs, butts, breasts, shoulders and some curves. They have confidence. Looking like a string bean is out. Looking and being strong and powerful is in.
This a big change for me as a former high school and college distance runner. I am short (good for a distance runner) but more solidly built than a toothpick. For most distance runners, it really is a case of “less is more.” For years my coaches bugged me about losing weight, so I would be faster.
Back to swimming. Swimmers who are training hard eat a LOT. Not junk. But high quality calories—carbs, fats, proteins. That tremendous caloric output during heavy training has to be matched by a healthy caloric intake. Anna eats dinner #1 around 5:00 pm for her 6:00 pm practice. She gets home around 8:30 pm, showers, and then has dinner #2 which is more like a heavy snack. It usually involves some fruit, peanut butter, or leftovers from dinner #1.
So yes, women swimmers have women’s bodies. They are expected to train, to eat well, and to swim their fastest. Swimmers have broad shoulders and strong bodies, and those are something to be admired because they represent dedication and hard work.
I never planned on becoming a “swim mom” but my daughter had other plans. She played rec league soccer and was a good goalie but quit early on because she said, “Mom, I get too sweaty.” I thought that was the end of her sports participation because I couldn’t think of a sport where you DON’T get sweaty. And in addition, she wasn’t very coordinated. Anna was the kid that tripped over lint in the carpet. Literally.
But she always loved the water. When Anna turned seven she decided to join our summer rec swim team, mainly because her friends were doing it. And that was my initiation into the culture of swimming. Swim meets are different from other sports competitions in that it is not a “drop off” experience. Rec league meets require LOTS of parents volunteering—timers, starters, place judges, scorers --you name it, it’s done by a parent. And I was that parent. At the end of the season she won the “most improved” award for her age group. With hindsight I believe it was a testament to her hard work.
Fast forward to middle school. Anna was still swimming on our summer team but the stress of 6th grade was taking a toll on her. She had high expectations of herself and no way to release her anxiety. She was a walking ball of stress. She would do cartwheels and handsprings until 10 or 11 pm every night trying to burn off her anxiety. In desperation, I found a fall rec swim league through our city that her friends were also joining. The pool was close, the price was right ($60 for 8 weeks) and it was a good middle step between summer rec and a full year-round program. Her coach was a former college swimmer who had all kinds of creative workouts and worked the kids really hard. At the end of every practice my anxious, tense daughter would be tired, relaxed, and happy. Swimming was her “miracle drug.”
I couldn’t say no to something that made her so happy. And as an athlete myself I knew all the benefits of training and competition—camaraderie, friendships, challenging yourself, making a commitment and sticking with it, dealing with disappointment, taking care of your body and honoring its strength and power.
Thanks to Anna there are damp towels and swim suits all over my house and my car proudly sports the “swim mom” magnet. I wouldn’t change a thing.