What 5 AM Practices Really Taught Me

Emma Frutkin – Savannah, GA

I started swimming when I was very young, and some of my earliest pool memories took place at the local Elks Lodge in Lansing, Michigan. It was a simple pool —true to my frugal, Midwestern roots — and staffed mostly by students on break from Michigan State University. From Memorial Day all the way through Labor Day, I spent almost every waking minute in that pool. By first or second grade, I was swimming competitively year-round with my older brother and sister. As a parent myself now, I can appreciate this incredible convenience for my parents. Three kids in one sport! Were they smart or just lucky?

Swimming set the rhythm for my family for many years. We lived and breathed the sport, carpooling to practices with neighbors, wet swimsuits and towels everywhere, swim meet medals and relay ribbons, chlorine-soaked hair, and later, “hell week,” pasta dinners, tapering for big meets, and so much more.

Swimming was my identity and by high school, I was ready for the varsity team. I trained the entire summer before freshman year with the high school team, going to early morning practices, lifting weights in the school weight room, and two-a-day practices. And when we weren’t in the pool or training, we were cracking up at our inside jokes and bonding over summertime crushes or sibling rivalries at team dinners. By the time the first day of high school rolled around in the fall, I felt like I really belonged and was excited for this next chapter in my life that swimming provided for me.

High school brought many challenges for me, although not academically. I got straight A’s with a heavy AP course load and, not surprisingly, graduated as valedictorian of my class. Also not surprisingly, I struggled with perfectionism, people pleasing, and unfortunately experienced some health issues. And yet, during that time in my life, swimming remained a happy place and safe space for me. The pool was an environment where I worked through a lot of my thoughts and feelings. Bad day at school? Mad at my parents? Lap after lap, I’d let it all out. Mundane to some, but therapeutic for me. I spent more time with my teammates and coaches than I did with my own family, as most student athletes do. My team was family to me, and I am so grateful for the time we had together. By senior year I was the captain of my team, and by the end of the season I was fulfilled and ready to wrap up my swimming career.

Like many thirty-something year old parents, I now realize that my time on the swim team taught me so much more than how to swim the backstroke properly. Swimming competitively taught me the value of persistence, hard work, consistency and habits, collaboration, and so much more; all things that I want my kids to experience for themselves. Although as parents we try to educate our children through our own successes and struggles, I believe that these values — these intangible assets — are life lessons that parents cannot adequately teach their own children, but instead must be learned independently. Through my own personal experiences as a swimmer and now as a mother, I have found that organized sports are an ideal environment to learn, grow, and develop.

Emma boys