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Swimming against the current: the final race

A group of swimmers at the final Mills College swim meet on Feb. 12. (Bill Horgos)

After three previous columns, I have come to the end of my series about being on the Mills College swim team. I’ve chronicled about my many hours spent in the pool on campus, hoping to share some insight with the Campanil readers in what it’s like to be a college athlete.

Although I can’t say what everyone’s experience is like, I can tell you my own personal view. And what have I come away with? Being a Mills athlete is not as scary as it seems. Try it out.

It’s the end of the Mills College swim team season. Although it’s only been about a month, it feels like it’s been years.

My locker is crammed with various swimsuits, caps and goggles, I’ve eaten more protein bars than I should have, and I sport permanent chafe marks on my neck from my racing bikini.

I have no complaints though. This season has taught me how to wake up at 6 a.m., ready to work out for two and a half hours with the swim team. Breaking a sweat before sunrise is serious bonding time.

The bonding can get tricky once swim meets role around though, particularly during our last meet on Feb. 12 against California Institute of Technology. There are some drawbacks to working out with people you’ll compete against.

During practice, we all endure endless sets of swimming on specific intervals, all back to back with little to no breathing room in between. The team and I would swim side by side, pushing each other to make our best times possible without collapsing in exhaustion.

And with each practice of swimming side by side, we get to know each other’s strengths, how long it takes for the other person to get tired.

So racing events at the swim meet, particularly the 500, against some of my teammates? I knew what to expect for the most part.

I dove into the pool with five other swimmers, two from Mills. I pushed ahead and came in first, winning by a mere five seconds. A Mills swimmer came in soon after and we smiled at each other, exhausted but happy that damn race was finished.

Even though I won, it was bittersweet; how good can beating your friends feel?

But for the most part, I am great at winning.¬†Losing though? Now that’s tough.

Sure, I won the 500 freestyle. And I swam my hardest for the 1000 freestyle and the 200 freestyle relay, two other events I competed in that day–but I’m learning more and more that swimming hard isn’t enough.

I didn’t win those events and I didn’t qualify to go to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ championship in Missouri on Mar. 2-5.

But amidst my own little pity party, I have to remind myself: I only joined the swim team about a month ago; I am no expert. I did all that I could. I didn’t miss a single swim practice, I lifted all of the weights I could before collapsing, and I went to bed early every night.

So maybe this is where I learn my lesson. You don’t win every race in life. You may lose the majority. But at the end of the day, you have to keep your head up high, knowing that there’s always next season.

And next season? I’m definitely going to nationals.

Read the rest of the series

Swimming against the current:
1.) Becoming a college athlete
2.) Getting down to business and gearing up for swim meets
3.) How to win a swim meet
4.) The final race