Life After Swimming: What Is Your Legacy?

Life After Swimming: What Is Your Legacy?
Photo: Craig Bisacre
By: Jamie Stevenson

Stevenson, a distance freestyle specialist from Bethesda, Maryland, recently finished his swimming career at the University of Kentucky in February at the 2017 SEC Swimming and Diving Championships.

As swimmers, we spend our entire careers looking forward. It's always on to the next meet or to what we can change for the next practice. We have been told for as long as we can remember not to look back but instead to prepare for what's ahead. Every bad meet or disappointing swim is met with the phrase, "there's always another meet," from parents, friends, and coaches alike. 

Then one day you climb out of the pool, and your career is over. No longer are there swimming goals to achieve, practices to endure, or coaches to love and hate. Suddenly, it's OK to look back. And as I reflect on what I've accomplished, I realize that what I'm carrying away from swimming is not just a record of dropping time, winning races, or contributing points to my teams -- it is really memories. All of the travel meets, pre-dawn practices, successes, defeats, unfulfilled dreams, and shenanigans outside of the pool will stay with me forever and shape me as I go forward into the rest of my life. 

But as I think back on the years I spent swimming competitively, I recognize that what's important is not just what I take away from it but also what I leave behind.

What kind of mark do you want to leave?
As a sophomore in college, I watched as one of the graduating seniors at the time stood up and talked to the crowd at our end-of-season banquet about legacy. He told us that one of our coaches had asked him what mark he wanted to leave on his team, and that at the time he did not have an answer. He said he had spent a great deal of time thinking about that question and had realized that the lasting effect he could have on our program was maybe not inside the pool but instead outside of it. At the time I did not understand what my friend, and teammate, meant at all. 

Now, a couple of months into my post-swimming life, I've had time to think more about it. I've developed an appreciation for how all of us who are bonded by our intense shared experience have an opportunity to contribute something to those who come along after us. We can aspire to be guides, role models, and friends -- able to bring some perspective to that terrible swim, offer some wisdom on life off the deck, or simply to remind our teammates how quickly their careers will go by and to savor every moment before it ends. 

That senior who first brought all of this to my attention a few years ago has certainly had a lasting effect on me outside of the pool. He taught me many things about life beyond swimming and left a legacy that is remembered far better than any of his times on the scoreboard. I can only hope to be remembered the same way.

Swimming is a humbling sport. But it offers the kind of camaraderie that is hard to find anywhere else. Swimming is a place of community, where you have an opportunity to contribute something that will last longer than your records. So, if you're lucky enough to have another meet, or still be a part of swimming for your club team, in college, or even as a professional, take a moment to ask yourself:

What kind of mark do you want to leave?
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