“I’ve been swimming competitively for eight years, but I’m not here to tell you about a whole eight years worth of swimming. I am here to tell you that swimming and other sports have an enormous impact on athletes who struggle with mental health. I want to spread awareness about this by sharing my story.”
I’ve been swimming competitively for eight years, but I’m not here to tell you about a whole eight years worth of swimming. I am here to tell you that swimming and other sports have an enormous impact on athletes who struggle with mental health. I want to spread awareness about this by sharing my story.
At the age of eight, I began to consider myself a swimmer, but I had been swimming since a day in 2008 when I was two and a half years old. On that day, I remember the sky was cloudy, and the water was cold. My uncle had taken me to the local pool in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Filled with so much excitement, I quickly ran to the bench, threw down my towel, and jumped into the pool. I didn’t officially know how to swim yet, but I kept trying to stay afloat, kicking my legs as hard as possible. I slowly tried to get from one end of the pool to the other. Watching from the deck, my uncle had a slight look of glee in his eyes as his toddler niece tried to swim across a 25-yard pool.
Three years later, my mother put me in swim lessons at my local YMCA. I was already able to swim across the pool. The instructors placed me in the group level called the Minnows. But surprisingly, swimming twice a week for one hour was not the highlight of my week. I dreaded going, and I was more enthusiastic about gymnastics and basketball practice than swimming. I was more interested in playing in the pool than working on my technique. Also, I was not challenged in my group — some of the children still needed floaties or the instructor’s help. As a result, I did not want to be there, and I felt restricted rather than free in the water.
I graduated from the Minnows group as a five-year-old and tried out for the YMCA swim team. Though I did well, my age got me an automatic rejection. I moved up to the Flying Fish group and swam in the meantime, waiting for the next tryout date. I was six years old and ready to be a part of something bigger. I was still doing gymnastics too, but it did not feel the same as swimming. Trying out was pretty easy, as all we had to do was swim 25 yards and do a couple of starts on the diving board. Making the swim team felt so great, and I started to reminisce about the joy of being in the water.
Swimming had become my outlet. Although I was just eight years old, I was expected to be more independent than most kids my age. I had to take car service to practice because my parents were not very involved as they worked very stressful jobs and had to commute. I would be home alone from when I got back from school until 9:00 at night and would often have to eat dinner by myself. Though my dad would work from home when he was not traveling, he also suffered from mental health issues and went into dark moments. That was a lot to handle, but the feeling of being with my teammates and going to practice was my way to clear my head. Even today, I use swimming to clear my head when I am going through something. Thank you, 1844!
To clarify, I thank the year since, according to the Washington Post, this is the year that Europeans started taking swimming seriously as a sport instead of just relying on breaststroke. Swimming has made such significant improvements as a sport. Before 1844, swimming was considered an “un-European sport.” But fast forward to 2012, and six-year-old me was playing a sport in which the British have 71 medals.
Many advancements have been made over the years, and now the four main strokes are Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Freestyle. Backstroke, with its perpetual movement of the arms, always reminds me of how fast-paced my life is, and I enjoy being fast. Swimming has done so much for me as a sport, providing a mental and physical release, like a starting beep. The aerodynamics of gliding and moving in the water provided an adrenaline rush.
My first swim team practice gave me chills; I felt like it was destined from birth. My parents named me Le’har, which means waves, so it felt like they knew from the beginning too. Press the fast-forward button once more to the present day — the 2021 summer Olympics, where athletes have conversations about sports and mental health like they never have before. And it’s only the start.
The starter has always been one of my favorite parts of swimming. It is one of the most critical jobs in a swim meet. An official standing on the side of the pool near the flags, holding a little microphone walkie-talkie, says, “Swimmers, step up!” and then presses the button. The starter is a part of swimming that represents the two-way street of anxiety and freedom. There is so much tension until you are on the “block.” But once you hear the buzzer sound, it gives you a sense of release. Hitting the water, doing your breakout, taking the first breath is all a part of the thrill and excitement of swimming. Kaplow! The race begins.