Friday, March 27, 2015

Swimteam Benefits -- It's Not About Physical Fitness

So for some time now, I have told so many people to think about joining swim team.  I never would have guessed that it was going to be the sport I encouraged my children to be in.  Before I had children, I would listen to one of my co-workers talk about all the swimming and the meets and the SUNBURN (my pale body can't handle that!) and I pretty much decided I was not going to join those crazy people.

But, then as time went on and I saw my son's love of the water I thought it was something he should try.  My daughter was not really interested but I thought my son should do it.  We joined the local rec league... nothing big time here.  I watched him swim for an hour straight -- lap after lap.  Knowing that I could not swim that much I felt good about the exercise my video-game-loving-boy was getting.  I quickly decided this was his phys ed class! :D

The first meet was bright and early on a Saturday morning.  Much earlier than I wanted to be up and I could not imagine my son getting up that early and then swimming!!  But, despite the earlier hour we got up and ate a healthy protein filled breakfast and headed off to the pool.

My son's first race was also his first blue ribbon.  I was so happy for him.  But something even more amazing than that blue ribbon happened.  People who did not even know my son were cheering for him -- just because he was on the team.  Now this may sound silly to you, after all, aren't we supposed to cheer for our team?  But it was a different cheering that what we experienced in other sports.  There was a sense of sincerity to it that lacked in baseball and my daughter's softball.  After that first race, my daughter looked at me and said she wanted to join swim team the next year. 

But over the year things only got better.  My son did not get a blue ribbon in every race but he did have people cheering him on at each race.  And then I saw him.  I still don't know this boy's name but he challenges everything that I thought I knew about sports and sportsmanship.  I am not certain what his disability is, but I suspect he has a milder form of cerebral palsy.  He cannot use one of his arms and walking is not a smooth even gait for him.  But he has the BIGGEST smile and is one of the friendliest boys I have seen.  His jump into the water was anything but graceful.  With only one arm to use he was slow going down the lanes.  Due to his age he had to swim 4 lengths of the pool.  He NEVER gave up.  Other kids were done and he was just heading on his 3rd length but he gave it all he had.  All eyes were on him as he did his last flip turn.  I noticed something the cheering was so loud and crazy that it caught my attention. I looked around and found ALL teams cheering him on.  Everyone was on their feet as if there were watching some sort of photo finish.  I was almost driven to tears at this huge amount of encouragement that people were giving to this boy that many of them did not know.

As the season went on I saw this repeat itself with other children whether they were young or disabled and I saw it again at Champs with this same boy.  I was proud to be part of a great team sport.

The following year at a meet against the same rec league with this young man, it was COLD.  I mean get your kids out of the water and put thick quilts on them as their lips turned blue cold.  My children (my daughter did join the team the following year) were miserable between races trying to keep warm.  Races were slow from cold muscles.  Children lept out of the water and ran to their blankets.  But then the race happened.  This young man was in the water again.  Our guy on our team finished the race again as he was heading on his 3rd leg...  Our guy got out of the water and wrapped his arms around himself and walked from his lane.  But, instead of heading for his towel or his blanket he walked to the lane this other young man was swimming in. He stood there with not an ounce of body fat on him to keep him warm and cheered his opponent on and wait.  When the young man finished, our guy as cold as he was reached out his hand, helped this guy out of the water and hugged him.  How many 15/16 year old boys do you see do that?  Again, near tears!

I stopped our swimmer later and told him how grateful I was to have him as a role model on our team for my young son to watch.  That is the kind of thing is the life skill that I want my kids to learn.  I am sure it exists in other sports, and don't get me wrong there are kids on the swim team that are not the great role models and who do pick fights... but between the cheering and the sportsmanship I have seen on the swim team I am thankful for it. 

I meant to write this article for a while but I was too lazy.  Then a friend of mine wrote about her daughter Ella (Ella's Story) and I saw the story that I wanted to relay repeating itself.  I tell even more people about the benefits of rec level swim teams.  There is just something awesome about them and I am glad my kids are part of ours.  They can show the love of Christ in ways I never imagined!  (and they are in great shape!!)

Just keep swimming...