Have you ever been told not to think about something? What happens? Well, obviously, whatever that thing is comes to mind FIRST. It doesn’t matter if someone tells you not to think about elephants, pools, final exams, puppies, or the color pink—it really doesn’t matter—because I bet, as you read those words, your first thoughts were… elephants, pools, finals, puppies, and perhaps even Dr. Menzer’s hair. Our minds just work like that.
The question we have all been asked to analyze is the following: why do we swim? So of course, when I walked into the PAC to do my final independent swim, I told myself not to think about that question and just to relax my mind and enjoy the feeling of my body gliding through cool water. I could think about the question later. Well, as I’m sure you can all guess, the only thing that was replaying in my mind as I swam laps was “why do we swim…? Why do we swim…? Why do we swim…?” It echoed in my head with every stroke and flip turn until I finally gave up trying to relax and meditate and just finished my workout trying to actually answer the question. Why do we swim…?
I swam a 25 freestyle, why do we swim…? I swam a 50 free, because it’s a good workout! I swam a 75, because it can be social! I swam a 100, it’s a way to separate ourselves from technology—a 125, it gives us time to think—a 150, competition is exhilarating—a 175, it gives us a chance to improve—a 200, is it relaxing and meditative—a 225, it’s an activity that can be done by anyone regardless of race, age, religion, gender, or physical ability—a 250, swimming can occur anywhere—a 275, teams build opportunities for leadership and reliance on others—a 300… nope, I stopped there at the wall, breathing heavily and in desperate need of water. As I sat out of the water for a few minutes and chugged from my water bottle, I reflected back on all of the answers I had come up with and thought about a way to combine them into a single explanation.
After swimming a few more 100’s, some at a sprint and others so slow that the lifeguard probably thought I was drowning, I left the pool and began the long walk back to my apartment. As I walked, I thought even more in depth about how to comprise all of my thoughts into a single answer for this question. All that I could come up with is that we swim because it saves our lives. This can be the case for anyone who swims for a mental break, technical perfection, physical strength or rehabilitation, or spiritual discovery; the two that we have talked the most about in class, however, are mental and physical, and I will highlight their importance below:
1) Mentally. Swimming allows us the time to unwind, to cool down and reflect on our lives. It separates us from our technology, our music, our senses, our friends, and it even separates our minds from our bodies. Without constant distraction, we are able to put our heads in the water and drown out reality for a short period of time. Without a mental break every now and then, we would all lose ourselves to the fast-paced and noisy world that has consumed our daily lives.
2) Physically. Does this one really need an explanation? You want to get into shape, swim! You want to prepare your body for a specific event or test, swim! You want to rehabilitate or cure yourself after a medical condition or injury, swim! You’re drowning, SWIM! Whether you’re training, recovering, staying active, or simply trying to survive, swimming can physically save your life.
In the first chapter of Lynn Sherr’s book Swim: Why we Love the Water, she discusses how swimming can be an “inward journey” of “quiet contemplation.” And how swimmers can become “self-absorbed,” “introverted,” and exist in “a mental world of their own.” She talks about how the sport forces swimmers to focus and that it “sets the mood to meditate” while also allows the “cultivation of imagination.” Sherr spends a large majority of her book discussing how swimming, both in an organized pool or large, open body of water, can not only provide experiences that are unique to every individual but also produce a feeling that no other sport can—and that feeling is indescribable. She ends her first chapter by saying that “swimming is magical. It can also save your life.”
(If you enjoyed reading Sherr’s book and are interested in hearing more about her perspective on swimming and the water, I have provided the links to an interview she did in 2012. Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GveK4LlYxnU. Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAyr8j-0C-8 ).
Before the first day of class (and quite honestly even after the first day of class), I had no idea what to expect from the curriculum. Before this May Experience, I swam because it was hot outside, or because I fell wakeboarding and needed to get back to the boat, or because I was playing sharks and minnows, or because my coach told me to. I had never thought to swim because it would help me mentally, physically, spiritually, or in any other way. I viewed the sport as an embellishment to daily life rather than as a necessity.
So, why do we swim? I have found that we swim to improve our mental and physical health, to be social yet also to learn how to be alone with our thoughts, to be competitive yet also be aware of our own limits, and to survive the never-ending barriers that life throws at us day in and day out. We hold our breath, we endure the cold, we watch for flags, and we turn around at every wall—with swimming, we can conquer all of life’s obstacles.