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Back on the Blocks*

I am empty nesting. Redefining who I am. Parts of me were put on hold during those years when the focus shifted from me to raising my children. My children have successfully made their way to college and beyond. The immediacy of my day-to-day involvement has waned. And I have found those parts of me that were buried, scratching at the surface, clawing their way from the depths they were tucked away, and itching to be re-exposed. The athlete I'd been all my life wanted out.

I was a swimmer growing up. Then I transitioned to triathlon. And back to Master's swimming when I no longer had the time to train for three sports. My younger adult competitive years happened in spurts between college and my career. Then kids came, and it morphed into 16 years since I last competed. The occasional 5K Turkey Trot was not something I raced anymore; it was something I did so I could eat! Exercise has always been my outlet, but workout intensity gave way to workout necessity during those years.

In July 2021, I returned to the water and started swimming again. I had no more excuses. I found myself missing it. I went back to Carlsbad Master's swimming. Not surprisingly, many of the same familiar faces welcomed me back to the pool. It was a grind to find my strokes again, figure out a cadence that worked, and commit to swimming several days a week. My schedule was flexible and no longer dictated by others, so my list of excuses was irrelevant. I love going to those workouts, being with the people I swim with, and pushing myself again.

While contemplating the return to Master's swim meets, I realized my greatest hope for success personally was to temper my expectations. I am not the swimmer I used to be in my youth or even my thirties when I last competed. If only swimming were like golf: for every year we age, we get a time handicap so some of us can reconcile our new normal with the old one that reminds us of faster days in a bygone era. To clarify, though, some wickedly fast swimmers in every age category of Master's swimming seem to defy getting slower with age. I genuinely marvel at them.

I am older, smarter, wiser, and I know my limitations better these days. My body constantly reminds me of this. I have established new rules to ease my return to competition. Rule number one is mentioned above: modify (or lose) all expectations. Rule number two is to forget you were once any good. Rule number three is to find events few others do so that you can get a false sense of accomplishment when you place well. And rule number four is just to have fun figuring it out.

It had been a long time since I stood atop a starting block, waiting for the official's whistle to blow, indicating it was time to step up on the blocks. Thinking of diving off the blocks again was a scary thought. I wondered if I could grab the edge of the block with my permanently knotted hamstrings. I hoped I wouldn't cramp in the middle of butterfly or backstroke. It seems there's never a Master's swim workout where one of us isn't clinging to the lane line or wall massaging a calf muscle that cramped. If I swim that 200 fly, will I feel compelled to get out midway through, wondering what I was thinking with rule number three?!

Since my return to competitive swimming three years ago, the best part has been the incredible people I have met at practices, swim meets, and open water races. I have been inspired by all the different people out there competing. Some have stories like mine. Some are new to the sport. Some have survived cancer. Others have had major surgery. A few have special needs. Some were top collegiate swimmers and Olympic trialists—every one of them an inspiration with unique stories to tell.

I have a full slate of competitive swims coming up, from swim nationals to open water races. I don't enter those events with expectations. It has been part of my readjustment process: accepting that doing is much more than saying. The bottom line is I am undertaking something I have always loved to do and am so lucky to be back at it. I always look forward to watching incredible swims across a spectrum of ages. I continually marvel at former Olympians as well as the octogenarians (and older) who still possess the physical means to swim competitively. I accept that I am not what I once was, but I know I will have fun trying and enjoy every moment of this journey back to competition. 

*Revised from the original. As published in Carlsbad South Living and Calavera Hills Living magazines in 2024.


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