For this swimmer, the water is calming — and she recalls her first plunge like a second baptism
Maybe in a past life I was a mermaid. I find peace in water. It has this beautiful way of silencing all of the noise in my life.
But don’t get me wrong — this love affair with swimming didn’t come naturally.
My mom introduced me to the water as an infant. It was one of those classes at the Greater Pittsburgh YWCA filled with mothers and screaming babies — I was one of those screaming babies. The first class? I cried for 25 of the 30 minutes.
There was no turning back once I took the plunge. It was like getting baptized for the second time.
Things didn’t get much better when I was put back into a YWCA class once I turned 5. Every Friday, my parents would take me to the pool, hopeful that this was the day that I’d at least put my face in the water. That small feat took a year and a half. Essentially my parents paid for me to stand in 3 feet of water for an hour every Friday — for over a year — as they looked on, in shame I can only imagine, from the balcony. The other kids would violently kick up what seemed like gallons of water as they held on for dear life to their kickboards and water noodles. I didn’t get the appeal.
Eventually, though, I threw caution to the wind and placed my face under the water. You have not seen fanfare unless you saw my mom from the balcony cheering like I just brought home gold from the Olympics. She still talks about to this day. And there was no turning back once I took the plunge. It was like getting baptized for the second time.
The Y used to hand out cards every time you made it to a new level in class, and I started to take pride in getting them because my mom would get each one laminated. It was the ’90s, I was 7 and laminated cards were still something to be excited about. When I was about 11, I’d done all I could do at the Y. I made it through all of the levels and I’d just finished my junior lifeguard certification. I was hype. In hindsight, no one was going to hire an 11-year-old lifeguard, but I had my laminated certificate in case they did. Those Friday classes became more than just a routine for me. Swimming combined everything I loved: friends, competition — silence when you’re underwater.
After I left the Y, I joined my first swim team. This was little different from the leisurely classes I had been taking. Practice was at 5 a.m. and those pools were cold. I mean, that water did not care if you weren’t a morning person. It would wake you up. Swim meets were also new concept to me. The first time I heard the starter sound, I looked around, baffled, as everyone else swam away. I got the hang of it, though, and continued to swim for years on state-winning teams in high school. I also ran track for years — but there is very little that I will run for now. A sale? I’ll run for food — maybe.
But swimming is different. The love affair is everlasting.