Four years ago I got some great advice by a complete stranger at my cousin’s wedding. The groomsman was a rower for Princeton for two years; I was about to be a freshman swimmer at Denison.
He joked that he rowed his way to Princeton, but after two years lost his passion for the sport. “Do it ‘till it’s not fun anymore,” he said.
I always imagined that that moment would come after my final swim at a championship during my senior year of college. I’ll admit that at the time I heard that, I took the guy for a quitter. It wasn’t until much later that I appreciated his experience with collegiate athletics.
Prior to getting recruited to swim for Denison, I had swam for nine long years. I had a pretty good high school career, several spots on the Mound-Westonka High School record board, two state records in the 200M Freestyle relay with my club team, one top five national performance in the same event and some fantastic memories to boot.
Still, I felt like I needed something more, like I wasn’t done yet. So, a small liberal arts college in central Ohio with the best division III swim program in the nation seemed like the best place to accomplish that. If it wasn’t for the swim team, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a zero percent chance that Denison would have been on my radar. I’m unbelievably grateful that it was.
Like many collegiate athletes, I found that the experience wasn’t what I thought it would be. I proceeded to get beaten into a pulp by practices for two years, while not being able to produce any of the drops in my best event that I so badly wanted. And then I found myself at home on the weekends with the non-first year swimmers who didn’t have an NCAA B cut. It wasn’t difficult to lose my enamorment with the sport and my passion to keep going. But I felt stuck.
My recruiting class had 12 swimmers. That number has been paired down to three committed swimmers who have hard-earned the title of National Champions. But like so many of my teammates, I felt the daily grind of swimming was no longer in my best interest—it’s fair to say that neither side has any qualms about their decisions.
Quitting a sport is a precarious thing for someone’s social life. The camaraderie that forms between guys who have to wake up at 5 a.m. every day to get into cold water and do a hard workout is strong. Almost all of my friends were on the swim team; it was a difficult thing to leave behind.
So now I have another piece of advice to pass on: Do it ‘till it’s not fun anymore, and then do something else.
Now I’m a grinder for the club hockey team. Last Saturday night at our game, Xavier took offense to a clean check I made in the corner, I was swarmed by two guys upset with the hit. I got to witness a Xavier-Denison brawl after being head-locked by the referee. Then, from the penalty box, I saw my team’s power play score on both opportunities of the 5-on-3 to make it a 5-1 win. I had a thought from the penalty box: this is fun.