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Swim Your Own Race

by Alexis Matthiesen-Johnson

In over 8 years of competitive swimming, a common piece of advice I received was to swim my own race. In the most basic sense, this obviously applies to swimming – focusing on what you can control and striving to do your best regardless of the competition. However, this also extends to other sports and life in general.


In grade school, I practiced with my club team for many years before competing in my first official meet. I started swimming just to have fun with my friends and be involved in an after-school activity. When I was finally ready to compete with my teammates, I had just turned 13. In club swimming, the age groups are typically structured as 8 and under, 9-10, 11-12, and 13 and over. For me, this meant that I had to race against all of the older kids with many years more competitive swimming experience than myself. Even though I had been practicing with the team for a few years, I was still nervous to compete in my first meet. When I lined up at the blocks against kids more than twice my size, I was absolutely terrified, but I just had to focus on swimming my own race. I got dead last in every event I swam at that meet, but I overcame my fears of competing, and I had fun with my teammates.

Over the years, I became a distance swimmer. Through high school that meant competing in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle, but in college that meant competing in the 1000-yard and 1650-yard freestyle events. When you swim a nearly 20-minute-long race, you have a lot of time alone with your thoughts, and you have to decide what to focus on. The biggest choice you have is to focus on your competitors, or to focus on yourself. This is another situation where it is essential to swim your own race.


Personally, I choose to focus on my technique, analyzing details like my rhythm or turns to ensure that I am doing every part correctly. Additionally, I like to break up the race into smaller parts, and challenge myself to improve a certain aspect throughout, whether that’s trying to descend or build my kick tempo. In the distance races, it is so easy to get distracted by other swimmers and spiral to the point of losing quality and your race plan. By choosing specific aspects of your own performance to focus on, you can combat this and truly perform at your personal best.


This translates to other sports as well – you don’t need to have your head underwater to have a plan and focus on your performance. Whether it’s track and field, soccer, fencing, or any other sport, you can still swim your own race by not allowing your opponents to throw you off your game. Take the time to figure out what works best for you and make a plan to use that to your advantage to reach your potential, every time you line up for competition.


Not only does this advice carry over to other sports, but it is also relevant in other aspects of life as well. Swim your own race in school, jobs, and relationships by not allowing others to negatively impact your mood or plans. Focus on controlling what you can control, let go of the things that are out of your control, and you will find yourself happier and more successful – in both sports and life.

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