Ten Things Non-Swimmers Say to Swimmers

by Claire Forrest

Claire is a graduate of Grinnell College with a degree in English, and is currently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a freelance writer.  Claire went to her first swim meet at the age of eleven on a whim.  She fell in love with the sport and never looked back.  An S6 classified disabled swimmer for US Paralympics, Claire specialized in mid-distance freestyle and backstroke and made national and world rankings throughout her career.  She was a 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Trials participant.  Claire is passionate about integrating disability swimming into the larger swim community, having swum for able-bodied club teams and her college’s DIII team.  She enjoyed both Paralympic and prominent integrated able-bodied meets equally for the many commonalities they share. Over 13 years after her first meet, she owned more swim caps than she can count.

As all swimmers know, no one outside the sport understands swimming.  When it comes to a sport that is only appreciated every four years at the Olympic level, the only sport less understood than swimming is curling.  Maybe I’m being dramatic, but the things that non-swimmers say to swimmers make me think otherwise.

1.       “Don’t you get bored?”
Swimming isn’t a sport of constant play like volleyball or basketball, so it’s easy to understand why people who don’t swim think it might be boring. How do you count all those laps, they wonder? Factor in that we’re staring at a black line for two hours straight, and we’ve lost them. Just know this: a swim workout is never just plain old laps, and the time I spend staring at a black line are some of the most peaceful hours of my day. It’s anything but boring.

2.       “I could join a swim team! I was really good at front crawl in lessons.”
Swimmers shouldn’t mock anyone who genuinely wants to get involved in the sport, because we all started somewhere. But what most non-swimmers fail to understand is that the best swimmers make it look like they aren’t working that hard. Their stroke looks gracefully effortless, but swimmers know there is more than meets the eye. Beyond every beautiful stroke is years of fine-tuning and intense physical training. They are working hard. Plus, non-swimmers swim “front crawl.” Swimmers swim “freestyle.”

3.       “Don’t you get tired of being wet all the time?”
Jumping into a cold pool at six o’clock in the morning is something I wouldn’t even wish upon my enemies. But like all sports, swimming requires sacrifice. You have to love swimming more than you hate any of its other components. So yes, you’ll go through a family-sized bottle of shampoo in a week and you’ll jump into a pool for afternoon practice before your hair is even dry from morning practice. But it’s all worth it to a swimmer.

4.       “You’re still swimming? When is your off-season?”
This is a valid question, since many sports can only occur in a specific season of the year. But swimmers do not know of this ‘off-season’ of which you speak. Consider that swimming is not limited by weather, since you can swim indoors and out. School swim teams have longer seasons for this reason. Then comes club swimming: short course season throughout the winter and spring, and then long course season in the summer. And in the fall, high school and college swimming begins again. Swimming never ends.

5.       “Do you know Michael Phelps?”
Michael Phelps typically doesn’t enter to swim in the average swimmer’s club meet. Swimmers are grateful for the visibility Phelps has brought to the sport, but the average athlete probably doesn’t know the most famous figure in their sport.

6.       “Swimming isn’t a team sport!”
To the untrained eye, swimming looks like an individual sport. But anyone who’s spent hours a day swimming with their lane mates, riding buses to meets together, cheering at the end of each other’s lanes, or shared an earbud with a teammate for a pump-up song knows the truth. Swimming is the most team-oriented sport there is.

7.       “Did you win your meet?”
There are numerous ways to “win” at a swim meet. You can get your personal best time. You can win your heat, and possibly, one swim team can score over the other at a championship meet. To save yourself from a swimmer’s eye roll, the better question is, “How did you do at the meet?”

8.       “Swimming must be such a great sport…because you never sweat!”
Actually, you sweat a ton during swim practice. You just never notice it because you’re already submerged in water. And when you do sweat outside of the pool, you smell like chlorine. So, this is definitely not a plus.

9.       “How can you stand Speedos?”
Honestly, swimmers are so used to seeing their teammates in Speedos that it seems weird to see them fully clothed. It’s our uniform, simple as that.

10.    “Can you hang out?”
And the swimmer’s response is always, “Sorry, I can’t! I have to go to swim practice.”

Thanks to all the non-swimmers who cheer us on at meets. Even if you don’t understand it, we couldn’t do what we do without your support.

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