For the past eight years I have been a competitive swimmer. My reality consisted of an alarm clock blaring at 4:30 a.m., as I dragged my battered body out of my warm sheets to jump into an frigid pool, for another merciless practice. I loved every single second of it, it was incredible, until it wasn’t.
Although maybe not as successful as some of my peers, I am an incredibly passionate person, and the sport was my everything. All I wanted to do was swim fast, my standards of this ideal speed, varied on the given day, and I was willing to sacrifice anything to achieve them: holidays, friends, school and my health.
I recall having multiple fights with my mom regarding attending practice with the flu. Swimming back and forth staring at the black line on the bottom of the pool was my ideal pastime, driven by the vision of looking up at the scoreboard and seeing the time I had been striving for. I would not describe the sport as therapeutic, for me as some others do, on the contrary it produced anxiety.
Songs didn’t float through my head as I blew bubbles out my nose, instead thoughts would race through my mind as my lungs screamed for oxygen. As I analyzed every stroke, looking for tiny details to shave seconds off my time. However, I never did find a better feeling than the pure exhaustion of aching bones after a difficult practice.
I believe myself and others are guilty on many occasions of confusing dedication with obsession. It was when I ceased to be Ella who swam and morphed into Ella the competitive swimmer that I began to toe the line. I still have trouble now when people ask me who I am or what I do, not defining myself as one. As I began to personify a swimmer, indulging in thousands of calories a day, sporting top knots every day, and ensuring I was the 24-hour athlete, I also began basing my self confidence off my performances in the pool.
If I was succeeding in the water than I was a successful person, if I was not then who even was I, why was I not good enough and, why was I failing. I had tunnel vision and the only thing I could see were my results in the pool, like a moth to a flame I was mesmerized, any other achievements were discarded as unworthy. As you can imagine this mentality created an abundance of anxiety as my obsession with anything that could affect performance began to flourish. My commitment to the sport was always fueled by a passion and connected to my love of swimming.
It was only after months without the sport that I realized that I wasn’t. After some encouragement from my mom reminding me I was only 15 and had my whole life ahead of me to find myself, I quit. I quit and committed to starting over, doing nothing because I had to but because I wanted to, and because it brought joy to my life.
I can honestly say with so many doors reopened, and time to explore who I am I have never been happier. I believe this applies to an abundance of things besides swimming, we are all incredibly capable of becoming stuck, for fear of moving on and losing traction. If you fall off course, that only gives way for opportunity to land somewhere you are completely passionate about what your doing. There is no age restriction to changing directions and exploring a new side of yourself, because ultimately we are not defined by what we do or achieve, we are defined by who we know ourselves to be.
Ella Lane is a Grade 10 student at Claremont secondary school.