Sunday Longread: Just keep swimming

How my experience as a semi-professional swimmer has helped me during the pandemic

I was a competitive swimmer in the Chicagoland area for 10 years. Some of my earliest memories are swimming and doing laps in the pool. My mom always told me that I was a “water baby” and was happiest when I was in the water. Eventually this love of the water turned into joining multiple swimming teams and competing regularly. I joined my first true team when I was 9 and found some of my best friends who eventually swam with me throughout high school. My favorite memories were swimming and the many laughs my teammates and I shared during grueling practices and awful meets. While I will always cherish these memories, more importantly, I will never forget the lessons I learned while being an athlete and how those have helped me cope with being an international student during a global pandemic.

“This motivation to benefit the whole team and not just myself has served me well during this pandemic.”

It is no secret that swimming is a taxing sport and requires hours of practice and dedication. There was a point of time in high school that I was training an hour before school and over two hours after school – every day of the week. It was rinse and repeat for months. I was run into the ground and my muscles constantly ached. Yet, I did not skip practice even if I was stressed with my academics or thought my body was going to shut down if I did another lap. I showed up not only for myself, but for my coaches and teammates because we were all in it together. I knew my teammates were feeling the same (if not worse) and my coaches were only trying to make us the best possible swimmers they could. This motivation to benefit the whole team and not just myself has served me well during this pandemic. I learned to think selflessly. To do things I (really) did not want to do for the bigger picture, like social distancing, not seeing friends in person, and resisting going out. Even though the temptation is there, I have learned that making the right choice and thinking about others is better in the long run. While it is no doubt difficult, just doing simple practices like sanitizing your hands before opening doors is helping all the healthcare workers out there and all of those that are at risk from Covid-19.

Swimming was more than showing up for practices and going through the motions though. It was also what you were doing all the other hours of the day that would affect your performance. It was crucial to be getting adequate amounts of sleep and staying hydrated as well as fueling your body in the best way possible. One of the benefits of being in season was the amount of food you could eat without gaining a pound! But, in a global health crisis like the one we are living through right now, staying physically healthy in a well rounded manner is critical. How can we expect our bodies to respond in the most efficient way fighting off a deadly virus if we are not taking care of ourselves? To be blunt, we can’t. While ordering a Chinese every night is easy and delicious, maybe make yourself a salad or cook from home most of the week and reserve the weekend for a cheeky takeaway. After all, there’s nothing like a bit of comfort food to lift the spirits – in moderation of course.

Since us college students don’t have in person teaching for the foreseeable future, it is all too easy to wake up at 3 pm and stay up until the wee hours of the morning. However, it really is important to try and force yourself up early enough in the morning and stick to a normal sleep schedule. When our circadian rhythms get thrown off, there are many symptoms that come with it which are pretty hard to reverse without switching back onto a normal schedule. When I was in swim season, I had to maintain nearly an hour-by-hour schedule to make sure I could get to everywhere I needed on time and stay on top of my responsibilities. The time management and scheduling skills I learned through swimming have really helped me to stay organised and not fall behind in my online classes, as well as have all my schoolwork done by a reasonable hour with enough time to relax and rest. I would highly recommend investing in a planner, whether it be physical or online, and make to-do lists to stay on track and take some control over your life when we don’t have much in this ever-changing world.

“There’s no need to grin and bear everything…”

Now, when I was in swim, there were many moments where I really needed that extra push to keep going and stay committed. I was very fortunate to have exceptional coaches who were hard on me even when I didn’t want to hear it, but also a mother who was my biggest self-proclaimed cheerleader. She came to all of my swim meets, home or away, and even if I did not perform as well as I wanted, she reiterated that she was proud of me. She’s always been an unbelievable support system for me and has helped me more than she could ever imagine. Whether it be your mom, dad, sibling, friend, teacher, etc., do not be afraid to lean on them when you need to. There’s no need to grin and bear everything and sometimes you have to speak up and ask for a bit more support. Being so far away from home and having constant travel uncertainty, it has been really beneficial for me to talk to my mom everyday and even though I undoubtedly annoy her at times, it’s good to keep an open line of support.

I’m sure going into this second semester that many students are feeling a bit burned out, especially since exams were after Christmas and there has not been much of a break before the start of a new term. It’s entirely natural to feel this way. It is just how you chose to cope with these feelings that is important. When I was in my sophomore year of high school, I was feeling very burnt out by competitive swimming and seriously debated quitting. I felt that it was just getting to be too much and I was plateauing and not improving anymore. However, I decided to stick it out for the rest of high school because I reminded myself of all of the great times I had in swimming. The lasting friendships I made during it and the lessons I learned was more than enough to fuel me to stick with it and endure a rough patch. College is a time in our lives where we are meant to find ourselves and experiment and try new things. So, if you are feeling burnt out, try something new. Remind yourself of all the awesome opportunities you have as a student at Trinity. Learn a new hobby. Call someone you haven’t talked to in awhile. Give yourself a much deserved break from the day in and day out of life in lockdown and try to rekindle a drive that you had in the first term.

“Without the hard times and weeks where I felt like I was quite literally swimming upstream, I would not be handling this pandemic half as well as I am.”

As someone who decided to take a leap of faith and study at Trinity not knowing anyone in Dublin, I have had to heavily rely on lessons I’ve learned up to this point. Many of these stemmed from swimming and how being a part of a team shaped me into the person I am today. Without the hard times and weeks where I felt like I was quite literally swimming upstream, I would not be handling this pandemic half as well as I am. I am beyond grateful for my swimming career and all of the people I met along the way. While it did come to an end, I do not regret pushing through and staying dedicated to it as long as I did. Swimming has helped me more than I could have ever imagined.

Shannon McGreevy

Shannon McGreevy is the Sports Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Fresh student of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.