10 Reasons I'm Thankful for Swimming


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Swimmers are thankful for many things: taper, spaghetti/Nutella/bacon, warm warm-up pools, 4 hour Swimmer Naps, parkas, all-you-can-eat buffets.... But we’re also thankful for swimming. Let’s face it, swimming may be a love/hate relationship, but it’s the best sport on the planet. (Why else would you be waking up at 5am every morning to swim in a freezing pool if you didn’t love it deep down?)

As babies, we are 75% water. There’s a deep-rooted reason why we feel so at-ease in the water, peaceful and tranquil. Having a bad day? Float around in the pool. Stressed? Swim some laps. Feeling digitally burned-out? There are no emails, iPhones, or text messages in the pool. You can’t respond to your boss, teacher, parent, or co-worker when you’re in the depths of a 400 IM set.

So, here are 10 Reasons Why I’m Thankful For Swimming.

1. You can’t fake it.

There are no flukes when you win a 400 IM. There are no buzzer-beater shots or Hail Marys in a 1650. In swimming, you have to earn it.

2. The scoreboard doesn’t lie.

The cruelty of the Truth. If you swim fast, you’ll know. If you swim slow, you’ll know. There’s no ambiguity. There’s no second-guessing. “Rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth.”

3. Swimming laps = therapy.

The weightless, floating feeling is like therapy. And it’s cheaper than a therapist. Once, at the YMCA, I heard a guy say after swimming, “I could only swim for 10 minutes, but it beats a $125 therapist bill.”

4. It’s exercise-and-a-shower in one!

Swimmers are secretly like cats: We hate baths. We hate showering. It’s inefficient. Why would you swim laps, shower, dry off, change, then, later, shower again? Swim practice: the 2-in-1 sport.

5. Water is universal.

I’ve heard math is the universal language. Well, swimming may be the universal sport. Anywhere in the globe, from Bangkok to Boston, water is water, and a lane is a lane. Dive in and swim.

6. Your teammates become your best friends.

Maybe it’s a Stockholm Syndrome thing. When you join a swim team, you join a family.

7. Escape.

When I’m stressed, mad, anxious, depressed, or feeling a little nuts, I swim. Sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes for two hours. In this over-shared, over-analyzed world of connectivity, swimming is one of the last activities where I can escape, ignore the working world, and just listen to the calm of my heart beat.

8. It’s multi-generational.

Two things in my life I’ve been able to do with my grandparents: play cards, and swim. Because of its non-impact properties, I can lap swim next to 80-year-olds. There’s something communal I appreciate about that. I go to a basketball court and it’s 20 or 30-year-olds. I go to the pool, and I’ll meet World War II vets.

9. It’s like coming home.

Back to that 75% of our bodies are water statistic: Over time, that percentage drops. By adulthood, it’s more like 60%. Conversely, I enjoy swimming the older I get. Maybe because it’s like returning to that body-water ratio. Maybe because it makes me feel rejuvenated and young again. Maybe because it’s a place I can return to that feels familiar each and every time I dive in.

Swimming is all my own. Every experience is entirely mine. The way I move, how fast (or slow) I go. I can flip or stop. I can kick or pull. I can sink to the bottom, or close my eyes, push off the wall, and fly…

Every pool, to me, feels like home.

10. The way I feel afterwards.

I think I enjoy swimming the most because of the way I feel afterwards. Some things in life feel good during, but make you feel terrible after. Like deep dish pizza.

I always feel more alive in those post-practice minutes. Like I’ve accomplished something. Maybe that “something” isn’t as complex as a best time or stroke improvement. Maybe it’s just as simple as feeling alive, tired, refreshed, like I just returned from soaring in the weightless, blue sky…

Thank you, swimming, for being my therapist, my escape cave, my battlefield, my sky, my diving well of dreams, my refuge, my shower, and consistently the same, no matter where I go, how old I am, what mood I’m in, or what’s happening in my life.

But mostly, thank you for allowing me to soar, dive, swoop, sink, float, and, sometimes, to close my eyes and fly.

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