By Temarie Tomley, Swimming World
After celebrating my recent
birthday, I realized just how old I’ve gotten and how long
I’ve been in this game. I’ve been swimming for 15
years, and in those 15 years I have learned so much.
Everyone’s journey through this sport is different, and here
I just want to share a little bit of what I wish I’d known
when I was a young age group swimmer.
I want you to picture a
girl, a little girl with multi-colored nails. She’s wearing a
cap with her ears sticking out, eyes wide and a smile even wider.
Her reversible suit has dolphins on it, and it’s her
That was me.
If I could go back and
talk to that girl, the first thing I would tell her is that this
sport will beat you to the bottom of the pool more times than you
will be able to count… but every single time you will rise
back better, stronger, with something new learned.
This sport has taught me
more about myself and who I want to be than any school classroom.
It’s taught me who I am, how strong I am, and that I can do
anything. I’ve learned to be a teammate, to smile and laugh
through the hard times, to love myself and others, to forgive and
be forgiven, and how to be the best athlete I can be. This sport
doesn’t discriminate against who you are, it will take you in
and forever change your life.
It all starts with
training, and as a young swimmer, you don’t have any idea
about the years of grueling training ahead and the amount of
sacrifices you will have to make. It creeps up on you slowly, and
suddenly you’re in the midst of an impossible threshold set
and you don’t know how you got there or whether you’re
going to make it through. You will be tested every day in the pool,
both mentally and physically, but I’d tell that little girl
that it’s worth every second when you reach those goals.
The second piece of
advice I’d want to tell my younger self is that I’m the
tortoise and not the hare.
Everything is going to work
out, but you have to be patient. Slow and steady training will win
the race in the end. Throughout my career, I’m usually not
the one having huge time drops, although they have occurred.
I’m the one who consistently gets better every season, a
little at a time.
Everyone wants those huge
breakout swims, but it’s the slow and steady swimmers, the
determined swimmers improving a little bit at a time, who will push
through, surprise themselves, and usually continue with the sport
the longest. These little time drops always kept me hungry and
wanting more, so I was always motivated to work harder. I would
want myself to know back then that I will get there, and that I
will keep getting better.
The next thing I would
tell myself is how awesome I am.
I don’t know how many
kids are out there who tell themselves this, but I wasn’t one
of them. I never believed I was that good of a swimmer. I was
always too hard on myself and didn’t really know how to love
myself like I loved the sport I was playing. Because of that, I
didn’t have a lot of confidence and struggled to own who I
was. This got worse in high school, but it was something I finally
learned when I got to college.
I don’t think kids
are told how amazing they are every day and how much they have to
offer the world, swimming or otherwise. Swimming was always my safe
haven and was a place where I loved to go and felt like I could be
myself. It was the one place where I felt like everything was right
and where I felt like I was always supposed to be. I knew I was
meant to swim, so that’s what I did. And I haven’t
looked back since. My only regret from my early swimming days is
missing out on the joy and confidence I have now.
I would tell my little
self to take a second and breathe.
To just look around and
appreciate where I’m at and the people I’m with. To
enjoy a body that can just keep going like the Energizer bunny and
can put away pounds of food like it’s my job. To step away
from the pool and enjoy more things away from it. To realize how
blessed I am and to not only thank God for everything,
but give Him all the glory.
To ease up on myself and be
able to look back and see how my work is paying off. To see where I
came from and where I’m going because, ultimately, if you
don’t become a better person in the process, you are missing
the point. If there’s anything that’s true it’s
that swimming will always be there, has always been there, so
don’t forget about your life outside the water as well.
And it’s okay to
not be the best at 12, or 13, or even 14.
Be a kid, take breaks in
between seasons, and miss a few practices. You don’t need to
worry about fast suits or rankings yet. Keep playing soccer and
basketball. You are not just one stroke or event – try
everything. Don’t worry about double practices or weights
until junior year of high school – you don’t have to be
the biggest yet. Don’t worry about not breaking a minute in
the 100 free right this second – you’ll be under 50
seconds in no time.
Make the mistakes now. This
is the time to make them and learn from them: have your goggles
fall off, start swimming the wrong event or the wrong stroke, and
have your suit rip right before a race. You are still too young to
try and get it all right all the time.
I’d tell myself
that hard work will make you happy.
Talent and ribbons and
medals and first place finishes won’t because they
don’t mean anything right now. The only thing that truly will
make you happy and will matter is the toughness you put into every
practice and race. And when you do succeed because of that hard
work you’ll be able to look back on everything you’ve
done and be proud of yourself. You will know that you gave it
everything you had. When the doubt comes creeping in, the only
thing you will have is yourself and how much work you did or
didn’t put in.
Finally, I would say to
my little age group self to always believe in yourself and your
goals and dreams because there are so many great big things that
I hope everybody finds the
same love that I have found in swimming because it and the people
in it have taught me so many things that I am beyond grateful for.
Even with all of my knowledge and experience, I am still only a
student to the sport. I hope that as I continue on this swim
journey, to not only keep on learning and getting better, but to
also be able to teach and help others in ways that I wasn’t.
I have managed to continue to love this sport for 15 years and I
know I will continue to love it for the rest of my life.
And although I can’t
fit into that old favorite dolphin-patterned suit of mine anymore,
I still have the same big eyes, wide smile, and love for the sport