By: Chris Long
On September 27, 2008 I swam in my first swim meet, the 2008 RSA September Shootout. As a nine year-old, I swam in four events, all 50 yards. The 50 free, 50 back, the 50 breast, and the 50 fly. Now, eight years and five months later, my North Carolina swimming career is over. My last meet was this past Saturday in the 2017 NCHSAA 4A Eastern Regional Championships, and as I pulled myself out of the water after setting a new school record in the 400 free relay, it hit me: it was all over. There would be no more team dinners, there would be no more festive bus rides to meets, there would be no more 3 second conversations between 50s within a set, and there would be no more awesome practices where I finally felt that my hard work was paying off.
When I look back at it now, I realize that swimming was so much more than an “extracurricular” activity. It shapes who I am and how I act as much as any other influence in my life.
When I began swimming, I was a somewhat unorganized, easily stressed, and slightly chubby fourth grader. Through the hours of staring at the black line on the bottom of the pool, I became a new person. Eventually, the water became my second home. When I had a tough day at school, I came to the pool to relax. When I was in the midst of EOG week, I swam the stress off. When I was unsure about the transition from elementary to middle school, I swam. There is just something about being alone in the water where every sound is tranquilized and every movement is relaxed. It clears my head, and, when I leave practice, I am ready to conquer whatever could possibly lay ahead.
The sport also instilled in me a work ethic that no other area in life could. At age 12, I went through a lengthy period when I couldn’t drop any time. This is called a swimmer’s plateau, and almost all swimmers go through it at least once during their career. So during my plateau, while all of my friends had their growth spurt and dropped time at every meet, I was left in the dust with the same time that I had for months. While a lot of kids at that age quit when they go through a plateau, I wouldn’t let myself, instead, I pushed myself harder than I ever had, not stopping unless I had an asthma attack – which happened quite often unfortunately. When I finally had my growth spurt, I smashed my best times, and quickly caught back up with my friends. Now, I carry that work ethic with me outside of the pool, and I think it has made me a better person in all assets in life.
Swimming, lastly, introduced me to the best people in the world. I often find, that my best friends aren’t from school – they are instead from swimming. And while it is a little tough to be friends with people who live in Apex, I wouldn’t trade my swim friends for anyone in the world. However, the influence of my swimming friends didn’t end when I went to high school. When I got to Heritage as a freshman, I had a lot of friends here, but most of my true friends from middle school went to Wake Forest. Because of that, I had a hard time meeting people at Heritage and adjusting to high school. At that time, my family was contemplating moving closer to downtown Raleigh as my brother and I participate in a lot of activities downtown. However, that would have meant that I would be switching schools. And I was fine with switching schools, except for one part of Heritage: the swim team.
The Heritage swim team is truly a family. I know, that sounds cliché, but it really is. I don’t think that any other team of people are as close as we are. We not only go through 5 grueling hours of practice together each week, but we also have team dinners at a team member’s house the night before each meet. Yes, 40 high schoolers in one house. We have a team dinner at a restaurant the night of each meet, and we even ring the Salvation Army bell for a few hours in December each year.
This family was one that I was not willing to leave, and I can’t imagine high school without them. The reality that I will no longer be seeing them each day is still something I am having a hard time wrapping my head around, however; I can say for certain that they, and the rest of the swimming community, have left a permanent mark on my life.