Fall is the season of smell. The aroma of changing leaves as they drift on a brisk breeze, the olfactory warmth of pumpkin spice lattes wafting out of Starbucks and the scent of home-baked pies waiting to be served on the Thanksgiving table are the gatekeepers of the nose’s most wonderful time of the year and we spend fortunes on candles that claim to bottle our favorite fragrances.
However, my nose favors a smell not found in the autumnal section of Yankee Candle, nor in the branches of an apple orchard or a pumpkin patch. My perfume of choice?
With nothing but a whiff, that purely-chemical, hair-burning smell instantly transports me to a pool deck. I can feel the grimy tile under my feet, hear the buzzing and beeping of the timing systems and shiver at the cold shock of the water that I haven’t jumped into yet.
For 13 years, chlorine and the pools it lived in were my entire life, and I miss it more than anything.
From the moment that I dove off of my first block, I was in love with swimming. Nothing made me feel more powerful than moving through water, and no A on a test or Christmas present could compare with the joy I felt when I beat my best time. I lived for the moments when I worked out a mistake in my stroke, dropped hundredths of a second off of my event or pushed further off of my dive because it reminded me that every difficult moment was worth the time and struggle that I had sacrificed.
Even more powerful than the sport itself was the lessons that it granted me. Resilience, unfairness, balance, self-control, responsibility, how to get a full-body suit that’s three sizes too small on in under 10 minutes, discipline, determination and so many other principles molded me over more than a decade into the person that I am now. Swimming raised me, and leaving it behind was the most difficult choice that I thought that I would ever have to make.
Without swimming, I had to find a new life for myself. After an unfortunate series of academic and social trial-and-errors, I finally found my place at Lehigh. I was studying majors that I genuinely enjoyed, I had leadership roles on-campus and I had a house full of the most amazing women that I had ever met behind me if I needed them. I went into this year feeling like I always did right after a great race: I had everything figured out.
The difficulty of senior year has hit me harder than I anticipated, to say the least. In addition to the glaring truth that I will leave all that I have built in May, I now have to somehow find a job and yet another new path to follow, all while trying to balance the busiest semester of my life. For weeks, all that I have done is try to avoid that reality, and all that has happened is another sequence of mistakes.
Philip K. Dick said it best: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
The truth about senior year is not going away, but then, neither is swimming.
Even though I left the sport nearly four years ago, it has never left me. In every challenging moment, I remember what I always told myself before a high-stakes race. The anticipation of a race is always harder than the race itself, and right now, I’m standing behind the block and wondering how this next race will go.
What job will I get?
Will I hold my pace evenly the whole time, or will I fall apart five yards before the finish?
How can I possibly do this?
Who will I be when I reach the other end of this race?
I don’t know the answer to these questions yet, but what I do know is that I will get through it because I’ve done it before. I also know that I’ll have to do it again and again because the races never stop coming in life. I am sure that I will have my fair share of mistakes and days where I want to leave it all behind again, but I know in my heart that the best times and first-place finishes are also waiting for me at the end, and they are worth every moment of the struggle.
The race is about to begin, the chlorine is strong and my anticipation is making it hard to move, but I know that I’ll be OK once I get going.
It’s time to get back in the water.