Mike's Mailbag: Regrets and Decisions

Mike's Mailbag: Regrets and Decisions

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Every week, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question you’d like me to answer either in Splash Magazine or online at usaswimming.org, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com, and I’ll do my best to answer you.

Dear Mike,

I've been swimming for about nine years. I am on the highest group on my team and go to big meets. But I've had to take a break from swimming due to a disease. This disease could potentially take me out of swimming for a year, and even when I'm cleared to return to the pool, I might not be the same.

At first, this crushed me. I was worried I would lose my spot on our top group and that my friends would forget about me. But as I spend more time out of the pool trying to recover I realize more and more that I don't miss swimming. I miss my teammates but not swimming itself. I've started to realize that part of the reason why I am currently out sick is because of swimming and the mindset that comes with it.

Part of me is clinging to the sport because it's all I've known for almost a decade of my life. The other part is ready to let go of swimming and focus more on school and my life outside of school/swimming.

I've spent who knows how many hours agonizing over the question of quitting swimming and what it would mean if I quit and I don't know what to do. Returning to the sport when I'm healed but stepping down a squad level would destroy my pride, so I've ruled that option out. Which leaves two choices: to swim or not to swim? I don't know.





Thanks for sharing your journey with us. You’re not alone. I get these emails a lot — people who have stepped away from the sport, only to realize they don’t miss it that much. No matter what you choose to do, your health should be your number one priority. If swimming contributes to your disease, don’t swim. 

But if it’s not that simple — because I don’t know your specifics — here’s a bit more advice:

To be honest with you, when it comes to deciding whether or not to swim, I did the same thing when I was younger. Stepped away. Took a break. (Not due to disease, but due to disinterest.) That break, for me, led me back to swimming with a renewed vigor. For you, your journey could be different. Again — health should be your number one concern.

I’m not a fan of the cliché, “Everything happens for a reason.” A disease, an accident, a fluke random occurrence — sometimes, things don’t happen for a reason. They just happen. Some of them are good. Some, bad. I’m more a fan of the saying, “Play the hand you’re dealt.” My grandfather often said that to me, after a lifetime of hardship and obstacles.

It sounds like the hand you’ve been dealt is questioning whether or not you still have passion for the sport of swimming. I can understand why you feel this way. Swimming is sort of like a relationship: With distance, the heart grows a little colder. Only when you’re with it every day does that relationship grow into something meaningful.

But also, this relationship may not have been entirely healthy for you, from your note. The competitiveness, the stress. It can affect people differently. You may realize that swimming, though a healthy exercise, was unhealthy for you. Only you can determine this.

If you’re 50/50 about your decision whether or not to quit, and if it’s less about health and more about passion, I’d try swimming a week or two. Returning to swimming may hurt your pride, even if you have to come back to a less intense group, but pride heals quicker than regret.

Walking away is not the hard part. The hard part is finding something to replace the passion you once had for swimming. It’s difficult to do. If you’ve found something else that’s eating away at you, another activity that you want to try, something that makes you feel alive, chase it.

What are you going to be passionate about?

What makes you wake up in the morning?

Listen to the beat of your own drum. When you think of things you could be doing, and things you could do, what makes your heart beat?

After I quit, I came back, and I loved it. But that’s me.

Go slowly. Be careful. Focus on your health. Get healthy first. And, if you’re still wondering, questioning, curious, try swimming for a week or two. Just to see what happens. Talk to your parents, coaches, teammates, and share your thoughts. You’re not alone in this journey. Your friends will be your friends, whether you swim, dance, draw, study, read, or anything else. Your family will love you. Get healthy first, then listen to your heart.

I hope this helps


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