Ever since I was a little girl, I have always loved the water. My mom says it was like I could read the waves in the ocean and that the water was a big part of me. I didn’t grow up at swim meets. I didn’t spend countless hours in the pool as an 8-year-old. I didn’t even know competitive swimming was a common sport until I heard about my local neighborhood team in Circle C. To me, the open water was a treat and something I could only really touch during the warm months. It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I realized I wanted more.

I started out small, summer leagues and practicing whenever possible, but then I went on to join the high school team. Swimming taught me many things, first of which was that the smell of chlorine quickly becomes permanent on skin. It was like everywhere I went, no matter how hard I tried to shower away the smell, the chlorine followed me everywhere. Lesson number two was, in the winter, a parka (those giant trench coat things) is your best friend. You’ve never experienced real, bone-numbing cold unless you’ve done a 6:30 a.m. practice in almost below freezing temperatures on a windy morning. Trust me.

In all seriousness, swimming was my saving grace. Faster than I thought possible, the water became my home. The chlorine became comforting and I was addicted to the pre-race rush. There is nothing like diving off the starting blocks and swimming your heart out lap after lap. I could lose myself in the rhythm of the strokes and think about anything and everything as the water rushed past my ears. I went into this sport simply hoping to distract myself from the stress and self deprecating attitude I had developed through my more than rough freshman year. I figured it was a way to pass the time and get some of that exercise doctors always talk about. I never expected it to become my safe place. I think the cold water helped to pull out my insecurities and negativity and purified them in the mix of chemicals swirling in Founder’s pool.

It wasn’t always glamorous, considering some days we’d have many unwelcome guests swimming along with us. Frogs, snakes, and all sorts of bugs joined our morning practices and after we all looked like wrecks with our red eyes and blushed faces and hair falling out of our swim caps. To me however, the sport was beautiful, watching my team cut through the water like they were born to do it was the most satisfying thing I’d ever seen. Also, a perk to jumping in the water when it was pitch black outside was I was able to see some of the most beautiful sunrises I’d ever seen and the sky full of stars was a gift in itself.

I don’t think I fell in love with the sport simply because of the water. I also fell for it because of the people. My good friend Eloise Smith helped keep me motivated and she introduced me to the wonderful people she’d met her freshman year on the team. Vicky and Rylan and Emily and Olivia and Nathan and Shaye all are such wonderful people, as well as all the other members of the team I met last year and this year. Each and every member of the team pushed me to be better every practice and I could not be more grateful. Above all, I am beyond grateful for my coaches. Coach Cisewski and Coach Andrea. Both of these wonderful women taught me that hard work paid off and that swimming was worth every bit of work. Coach C I leaving to pursue her dreams after this year and I couldn’t be more proud of the training she’s done and all of her hard work. She has always been kind to me and made me laugh even when I felt like I was dying in a set. Coach Andrea is wonderful, kind, understanding and has always driven me to work harder. They have have pulled the best out of me and didn’t lose hope in me even when I lost hope in myself. I happen to be the clumsiest person on the planet and they have helped me through every injury and sickness, from falling while running on the trail to getting a high fever on the one overnight trip we had this season. I know I’ve been a handful but all of these people helped me through every step of the way.

Swimming was the best decision I ever made, and I am so proud to be part of the team. I can’t say thank you enough to everyone who kept me going, every step of the way.

Written by Clara Comparan