Joe Kind: A Guy
I finished my collegiate swimming career this past weekend and I still can’t believe it.
Much of my life has revolved around a set schedule. My various routines evolved over the years, most notably when I started high school. Sports practices, piano lessons and Sunday School came and went each week, sometimes clamoring for dominance. But the extracurricular activities could never overpower the cardinal life activity that was school.
I liked school. I did well in my classes, or at least well enough to avoid parental scolding. I was never an exceptional, otherworldly student, but I was successful, which I defined by the approval of my parents and my teachers. My accomplishments in school made me most proud of myself. So as long as I was satisfied with my academic performances, nothing else really mattered.
I sailed through high school with what I considered a strong work ethic and a stronger will to win — both athletically and academically. I was motivated, and I still marvel at how lucky I am to have made it to Dartmouth.
Walking on to the swim team at Dartmouth was never so much of a decision as it was an opportunity. It was the spring of my senior year of high school, and I was already committed to going to Dartmouth the following year. I was enjoying my first few months on a new club swim team, practicing six days a week for two to three hours a day. The longer practices led to swift and significant improvements in my races. I was reaching an unprecedented level of fitness as I began to finally concentrate my entire athletic energies into the intricate technical workings of a single sport. The Dartmouth coach, talking to my new club coaches, learned about my recent developments, and offered me the chance to walk on to the team. I gladly took the chance, though I had no idea what I was in for.
Almost immediately, however, this new commitment to the swim team ruptured the safeguards I had built for myself under my high school schedule. Never had my daily routines been confronted with the expectations of a Division-1 sports program, both in sheer volume and intensity. My sense of balance, physically and emotionally, would be permanently disrupted.
Away from home and on my own, I felt an onslaught of responsibility freshman year. I had no one but myself to organize my life and all the aspects of what I thought would led to a sense of balance and ultimate happiness. I had very little time to attend lectures or club meetings outside of classes and practices. It took me a long time to realize that swimming would take up both sides of the scale — a phenomenon I was never introduced to in high school.
My parents, on the other side of the country, offered me their best advice time and time again, year after year. I had no obligation to continue swimming if I was not happy doing it, or if I was unable to do it.
But quitting the team just didn’t feel feasible. Throughout my time at Dartmouth, swimming was such an integral part of my day-to-day life, yet it took me a long time to feel like swimming was really truly mine. I questioned my physical and mental capability to keep up, but did my best to push through my doubts.
Somehow I made it through that first year on the team, in spite of all the freshman fumbles many of us experience here. Things began to click a little bit during my sophomore year, though not without entirely new sets of challenges. My junior year continued to see progress from the trials and errors of my first two years. And then there was this past year on the team, where I finally found the strength I needed to control my sport rather than the other way around.
My athletic career at Dartmouth came full circle this past weekend, at my last swim meet of the year. I made it to the very end. After all the adjustments I made to my comfortable routines, and all the stumbles I took in so doing as I progressed through the four years on the team, I somehow managed to hold on.
A lot of people assume I must be relieved to be done with such a significant commitment, after having given everything I possibly could have to the experience. In some ways I am happy to have the weight of it all no longer on my shoulders for the next term and a half. I can and will enjoy the benefits of a flexible schedule. I can go about my days in the ways I expected I would before I decided to walk onto the team. I can relish the “college experience” I thought I would have as a non-varsity athlete.
I am not concerned, however, with these kinds of statuses. Swimming here has redefined my understanding of discipline, fitness and work ethic, among so many other concepts. After this weekend, I have never been so at ease with myself and with my “college experience” thus far, even if it wasn’t anywhere near what I expected.
It is easy to forget the merits of finishing at all, let alone concluding as a smarter and stronger person.
I hope this feeling of relaxation is what engulfs me when graduation rolls around in June. As accepting as I am of the fact that my swim career has concluded, I still see so much to gain from my remaining time here. It finally feels like my time to truly take Dartmouth by the reins and enjoy the last few rides before I really tire out.