The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

Athletic Reliance is Not Dependable

My senior year ends next week, and I can’t help but reflect on the hardest decision of my life: deciding whether I wanted to continue my childhood sport in college.

After a final, subpar high school season, and an agonizing three months of thought, I chose to commit to a school where my academics would be more valued, one where I won’t be swimming through a college sponsored program. And even though I’m ecstatic about my decision, the process of choosing was awful.

I’ve been swimming competitively since I was 4. My coaches and teammates throughout the years have continuously made the pool deck feel like my home. I never skipped practice unless necessary, and on each of the three teams I’ve been on, I can proudly say I was one of the most dedicated.

When I peaked at age 12, I was attending national level meets, sharing a podium with people who are now Olympic Trial qualifying athletes.

But that was until the pandemic. I stopped swimming for three months — missing a single day would already make me out of shape — while the girls I swam against in Missouri were only off for a couple weeks because of the state’s different COVID protocols. They excelled at a regular pace, and I fell comically behind.

During this period, I hit puberty and my swimmer appetite continued to rage on, causing me to gain 30 pounds and lose much of my hard-earned muscle from the two years prior.

Thus, my high school career didn’t start, nor end, the way I ever thought it would. To this day, I’m still competing against my times from almost six years ago.

My younger self always thought I had what it took to go DI, maybe to big swimming schools like Berkley or Stanford. When I began the application process last summer, I obviously knew there was no chance of this anymore. Yet, when I could barely get responses from my top DIII schools, I began to panic.

I couldn’t even fathom the idea that I might not be forced through grueling three-hour practices every day. For the last 13 years, I’ve always had swimming keeping me steady through every time I had to move from state to state, town to town, house to house. How was I supposed to get through the life-altering change that is going to college if I couldn’t depend on swimming?

Who was I if I couldn’t say I was a swimmer?

From my eavesdropping this year, I know I’m not the only one that went through this. I’ve heard multiple commits my age talking about how they dread continuing their sport, but they don’t know what else to do with themselves.

It makes me sad to think that so many people my age are solely relying on their sport to get them through life. I’m worried for the people around me when they’re forced to stop playing after the final four years of college are over. How will they cope then?

After this year, I know how crushing it is to realize that you won’t have the opportunity to do it forever.

In hindsight, I’m grateful to have come to this revelation now, as opposed to four years down the line when it’s crucial for me to not depend on it anymore. High school student athletes need to consider the negative implications that come from this now.

If you’re tying your entire identity to a single sport, where your career could end in a flash by a global pandemic or injury, you need to start considering other options.

There’s a minuscule chance that you’ll end up becoming a superstar athlete, and even then, that only goes for so long and could end at any time. If you don’t try to develop your personality outside of your sport, you’re going to get a harsh slap in the face that’s going to burn significantly more as you grow up.

The college decision could change the trajectory of your life, but it shouldn’t depend on how good you are at your sport.

I’ll miss the muscle fatigue that comes after five hours of standing, screaming, and swimming, the mentors that I’ve found from my childhood coaches and the otherworldly bond I’ve made with my teammates past and present. Even so, there’s nothing more exciting to me than the prospect of finding a new version of myself — one that doesn’t constantly have a chlorine smell wafting off her — this fall.