Trials of a Retired Swimmer

You can only pretend to be something else for so long……

For the majority of my life, I have always been able to perfectly define myself. I would eagerly wait for people to ask me about what I do, where I work or, ask me to tell them a little more about myself. I would proudly tell them about my life as a national level swimmer. I have swum for Karnataka as well as my school and university. It felt good to be able to define myself.

Swimming had given me so much. I was at peak mental as well as physical health, I had properly defined goals, I knew exactly what to do in order to get closer to them. I knew where my life was and I also knew where exactly I wanted it to go. When you’re so focused in one aspect of your life, your focus automatically gets carried into the other parts of it. I started doing much better in school. I could see my grades going up and I was a lot more attentive in class. I was happy with the way life was going and I thought it would continue the same way. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In a country like India, unless you are the best at your sport, it is almost unheard-of to continue competing at a professional level. Like so many of my peers, I too decided to cut back on training once I got into college. Up until this point, I would still introduce myself as a national swimmer. People were still impressed and I still felt a sense of pride deep inside me. I continued swimming for the university albeit with a lot less practice. I still won laurels for my college, and I was satisfied with my own performance.

Like most ‘engineers’ I too got a mediocre IT job in Bangalore. I somehow made it to work each day. The worst part about all this was that I could no longer call myself a national level swimmer. I was just a regular ‘IT Guy’. The problem wasn’t me not being able to define myself to others. The problem was that I couldn’t define myself, to myself. I was at a point where I was ashamed of explaining to my 14-year-old self what I was doing with my life. I hated being in this position. The only thing that somewhat kept me going was my physical fitness and the levels I had attained while swimming. Thanks to healthy genetics, I never put on a lot of weight after quitting.

I remember spending most of my time at work looking at the clock, waiting for it to strike five, so I could get out of there and head to the gym. Gymming was the only thing that brought me almost as much happiness as swimming once did. It was something I could work at and something through which I could track my progress. It helped me set goals for myself. It wasn’t a regular, boring gym with treadmills and the likes. It was a functional training, crossfit gym where the workouts were fun and competitive!

It still wasn’t the same. Something was missing. I couldn’t define myself by it. I don’t think I realized it before, but I had a connection with the water. When I was around water, I was never down or depressed. I needed to find something that brought me close to water again.

Around the same time, I had heard about this surfing school near Manipal. I wanted to go and check it out. I made a reservation for a weekend around Diwali. I despised the bursting of crackers and wanted to get away from it all. This was the perfect excuse to kill two birds with one stone.

Up until now, the only things I knew about surfing were from watching Rocket Power on Nickelodeon! Turns out I am a regular. For those of you that don’t know, you can either be regular (like most people) or goofy. That means you either surf with your left foot in front or with your right.

I was so excited! I couldn’t wait to get into the water. We started off by learning how to get onto the board. It was fairly simple. Being so comfortable in the water helped quite a bit. Next, we moved on to paddling. It is one of the most difficult parts of surfing. It kind of reminded me of swimming freestyle. Turns out, I was already pretty good at it. So, we moved on to learning how to catch a wave. Waves came and went. I knew I was either too early or too late. Half an hour into it, I was finally able to catch my first wave! I didn’t bother standing. I just wanted to enjoy it and ride it all the way back to the beach.

Many, many waves later, I can now stand and turn on a wave. I decide when I get off, and not the wave. I have developed a new found respect towards the ocean. I know that there are miles to go before I can actually call myself a surfer. It feels good though. I have finally found something else that I am passionate about, something else that I can work at and improve on and best of all, something that I can identify myself with! I am not afraid of confronting my 14-year-old self anymore. I am sure he would be happy with the way his life has turned out. He would be happy that all those years of getting up at 4:00 AM, going up and down the entire length of the pool for hours on end, haven’t gone to waste. But, then again, he never really thought they would…

Anyone out there with a similar experience? Please comment below and share it. I’d love to hear more from you.

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Published July 29, 2018July 30, 2018

Originally published at on July 30, 2018.