March 13, 2020
Statistically speaking, there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this story, you, like thousands of others across the world, have had your shave and taper meet canceled or postponed by the growing coronavirus pandemic.
It’s a uniquely heartbreaking development for those who don’t understand the structure of a swim season, the buildup, the sacrifice, the delaying of gratification, the investment we spend months making into one meet. Those who don’t swim, haven’t swum, and don’t care about swimming won’t get it. But we do.
You’re going to feel that you’ve been stolen from, robbed of an opportunity. You’ll be concerned about the effects on your future – missing opportunities for cut times, records, relays, the impacts on your dream of being recruited to swim in college. Your heart will break for your teammates who are moving on – seniors, or those who are aging up or moving cities or teams. It’s OK to feel this. It’s natural, and it’s justified. Don’t let anyone tell you not to feel the pain of this loss.
This cancellation means that we will all lose history. History from the sport, a handful of the greatest swims ever, and history from our personal narratives. History is a hard thing to lose.
You’re going to feel like your meet is being trivialized, weighed against someone else’s life to make you feel bad about feeling bad. None of us are placing a swim meet above someone else’s health. But just because a swim meet isn’t the most important thing doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.
CORONAVIRUS CAN’T TAKE AWAY WHAT COUNTS
You’ll look back on the sacrifices you and your teammates and your coaches made, the work you put in over weeks and months in faith that there would be a glorious payoff, a payoff now reduced to a brief e-mail about indefinite postponements and cancellations.
You may feel that the coronavirus has robbed you of an entire season. But it hasn’t.
Swimming has never been just about the destination. We put so much emphasis on the taper meet – but 90% of the taper meet is what you did to get there.
No one has an incredible taper meet and disconnects it entirely from the season that led up to it. That big drop is the product of hundreds of small steps forward – days, hours, minutes of growth as an athlete and a person, sometimes nearly invisible in the moment, but over a season, adding up to a huge leap forward.
What matters is what you learn and how you grow in the process of a season and a career. It’s not how you swim as much as who you are – and though you may not see the improvements you’ve made show up on a scoreboard in numeric form, the growth in who you are is still there.
BLAME THE VIRUS, THANK THE ADVERSITY
When feeling profound disappointment, it’s a human instinct to look for someone to blame. We want to externalize our anger, we want to channel our negative emotions somewhere outside our own heads, where they can’t continue to taunt us.
Don’t blame your clubs. Don’t blame your meet organizers. Don’t blame USA Swimming or the NCAA or your state high school league. They’re not trying to hurt you – they’re trying to protect the people you love.
You might be willing to risk getting sick to swim your meet. We believe most swimmers would be. As a physically fit athlete in your teens, 20s or 30s, you probably feel the virus doesn’t pose a significant threat to you. But the massive and sweeping responses to the coronavirus outbreak aren’t there just to protect you – they’re there to protect the ones especially at risk, particularly older people or those with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems.
The meet was canceled to protect your grandma, who at 80 years old has a 15% chance of dying if she contract COVID-19. The meet was canceled to protect your coach, who wouldn’t miss your taper meet for the world, but, as a diabetic with an increased mortality rate from COVID-19, would be risking his life to be on a crowded pool deck for you on meet-day – just another in a long line of sacrifices he’s made for you and your teammates. The meet was canceled for the 60-year-old official who is happily retired but still volunteers her time every other weekend to make sure your club can compete.
The folks in charge had to make the gut-wrenching call to cancel the meet, and they did it knowing how badly it would hurt you. But they did it for the people you care most about. Don’t blame them. They didn’t take away your meet. Coronavirus did.
Coronavirus is the latest in a long line of things that have tried to rob you of the joy you can get from the sport of swimming. Other illnesses have tried. Blizzards have canceled your meets and practices – they’ve tried. Pool pumps have broken, budget cuts have threatened, injuries have flared.
But swimming is still going strong. You are still going strong. Nothing else has beaten you, nothing else has taken away the things you’ve gained through swimming. We’re here to tell you that with all you’ve swum through with a smile on your face, coronavirus doesn’t stand a chance.
In fact, the adversity you’ve faced has only made swimming more important to you. One of the great goals of sport is to help you develop the life skills to handle adversity. Everything you’ve overcome in the past has made you stronger, has made you the better, tougher, more well-rounded person you are today. And the pain you feel now is only going to make you better in the future.
One purpose of sports is to help develop life skills for the really important stuff. And this is really important. Coronavirus hasn’t taken swimming away from you. Swimming has prepared you to overcome coronavirus.
When competition eventually resumes – and it will – we’re going to see an explosion of times the likes of which we haven’t seen in years. We’ll get two seasons-worth of time drops at once. We’ll see swimmers transformed and times surging and leaping forward. And we’ll see a group of swimmers – and people – molded and shaped by adversity into a stronger, tougher, more resolute group than they would have been otherwise.
Coronavirus can’t take away the season that you had. It’s going to be sorry it ever tried.