By Rachel Hoeing
Summer swim team season begins for most swim clubs this week. If your child is participating in summer swim team this year – BRAVO! If you are still contemplating, I say do it! Here’s why…
When my family moved to Charlotte over thirty years ago, our neighborhood did not have a pool, so we spent our first two summers running through the sprinkler and playing “Nestea Plunge” by pouring buckets of water on ourselves in the driveway. Ahhh, the memories! By the time I turned eight, our neighborhood pool opened, and my mom was one of the women who got an official swim team up and running. (Kind of ironic as I look back now, considering she never knew how to swim until I taught her when she was 55!) We only had about 60 kids on our team at good old Sardis Forest, and we looked pretty pitiful because we had no swim caps or goggles. Our diving blocks were hand-made by my dad, and no one had any clue what they were doing, but we were pumped up! We lost every single swim meet that year and I think the next year as well, but none of that mattered.
Over the first few years I learned all four strokes and soon decided breaststroke was my favorite. I was halfway decent at it, and I made good enough times to swim in the first heat with the “really good swimmers!” The morning after each meet, we’d gather on the pool deck as Coach Prince handed out ribbons. Every season I sat patiently as my sister, three years younger than me, received ribbon after ribbon. Blue, red, blue, red. She was an awesome athlete. I even remember her swimming on the older relay team because she was so good. No ribbons for me, but I didn’t give up.
I can’t remember when it finally happened, but there finally came a morning when I was handed a ribbon – a yellow fourth place ribbon in breaststroke! You would have thought I won an Olympic medal. I was thrilled. As you can imagine, my sister had an entire wall of her room filled with red and blue ribbons and I had my one yellow ribbon hanging proudly on my bedroom door. I worked so hard for that, and no one gave it to me because they felt sorry for me, or handed me a ribbon just for participating. I earned it, and it meant so much.
As the years went on, Sardis Forest swim team improved, and we finally won the league championship. I remember jumping up and down, crying, and hugging my teammates because we were so excited to have finally won. It was a team effort, and we were so proud. A few years later, guess who won the gold medal in the league championship for 13-14 girls’ breaststoke? You got it – me! I remember those final moments of swimming and getting closer and closer to the wall with the awesome Jill Dyer right on my tail. I could hear the crowd cheering each time I came out of the water to breathe and remember kicking and pulling harder than I ever had before. I touched that wall and could hardly believe I had done it. My teammates were cheering and Coach Prince pulled me out of the water with a huge hug. Even Jill Dyer, who I never in a thousand years thought I would beat, gave me a hug. What a moment!
I think the things that I most like about swim team are these: everyone has a personal goal to improve their strokes, cut their times, or beat a certain competitor, but we also have a team goal where we work together to gain points and swim relays. It is the best of both worlds. A swimmer can have a great night individually, but the team may lose, or vice versa. Swim team teaches kids to not give up. Swimmers who are terrible at backstroke may be great at butterfly, so there is usually a strong point for everyone. I may have won a medal in breaststroke, but my other strokes were majorly lacking in skill, and that was OK! I also think it is wonderful that swim practice gives kids time to be alone with nothing but their own thoughts. Lap after lap, I would just swim and think. How often do kids really get the chance to just think, with no other distractions? Lastly, what other team can you join where an 18 year old can be a mentor and teammate of a 6 year old? Some incredible bonds were formed between older and younger kids.
Of course I also loved those cool summer nights as we sat on our towels in the team section and ate our jello powder right out of the box. We brought decks of cards to play Spiked Malice and Crazy Eights. We made friendship bracelets and spied on the boys. We played our boomboxes and listened to our walkmans. We cried to our teammates when we did poorly and they supported us until our next event when we would jump back in the water and try again.
I coached swim team myself for more years than I can imagine and I can honestly say that summer didn’t feel exactly like summer when my children were babies and there was no connection to swim team. Now that they are getting older, I am always excited to see them jump in the water and enjoy it as much as I did.
I hope I’ve inspired a few of you to give swim team a shot with your children this summer and I am sure it will give your family many of the same fond memories that it gives mine.
By the way, yes, that is me on the right in the photo, sometime in the early 80’s. Note the medal around my sister’s neck, which I am sure was MVP. On the other hand, I am positive that my trophy was for “Most Improved!!!!” And you know what? I was proud of it!
Let us know if you share similar memories from your childhood, or if your children will be participating in swim team this year. For a list of local pools, click here.