From swimmer to "swammer"
It all started when I was six months old, when my parents first introduced me to the water. They signed me up for a baby swim class, and although I can’t remember many of the details, my parents claim that I was a “natural” and was always happy in the water. Little did we know, swimming was going to play an important role in my life for the next 22 years.
I would be lying if I said I fell in love with the sport right away. Like any other relationship, there were several ups and downs. As I moved up in skill, the practices got harder. There were many occasions when I left practice feeling defeated. Throughout my career, I had a fair share of disappointing races and meet results. I cannot even begin to express how many times I’ve said I wanted to give up and quit.
Despite all of these challenges, both mental and physical, I kept going. I was able to be a student athlete for 8 years of my competitive swimming career. I was a member of my high school’s swim team for 4 years, and recruited to Augustana’s varsity team after that. Being a student athlete came with its own challenges, but taught me a lot as well.
One of my high school coaches told my team something that resonated with me, and I still think about it quite often. He told us that swimming does not need you; you need swimming. Each time I contemplated quitting, I always came to the same conclusion: I can’t picture my life without swimming.
There were times when school and swimming consumed my life. During season, I spent most of my time swimming, eating, sleeping and doing homework. Sometimes it felt like my social life was non-existent. Traveling for meets and having weekend-long invites often caused a lot of stress because of the amount of course work I needed to make up. Despite the difficulties and challenges I faced, I would say the pros outweigh the cons.
To me, swimming was so much more than a sport. It was my rock when things got tough. I was able to take out all of my frustrations in the water. It taught me how to be a good teammate and leader. I was able to practice patience and time management skills. I developed not only my physical strength, but mental strength as well. I learned how far I could push myself to be a better and stronger athlete in the water, and experienced both great successes and failures. All of these learned skills and characteristics I can apply to academics and future career endeavors.
My time management and discipline skills came from being a student athlete. I had to find the right balance between academics and athletics. I developed healthy and effective work ethics for making sure my homework got done each day. It was also important for me to make sure I was getting enough rest each night to be ready for practices and classes the next day. Swimming helped keep me in check with my academics.
Swimming introduced me to some of the greatest people in my life and I developed amazing relationships with them. We made countless memories together, and were always smiling and laughing with each other even when practices and meets were difficult.
Every challenge and success that I faced as a student athlete was worth it, and I would not want to go back and change anything about my experience. It helped shape me into the athlete and student that I turned out to be.
So, at the 2020 CCIW Swimming Championships in February, I put on my Fast Skin suit, Augie cap, and goggles one last time to swim the final race of my competitive swimming career. I remember not caring how fast I went. The feeling of just getting up and racing was enough for me.
After an 11 year competitive swimming career, I am now officially “retired”, or as some might say, I am a “swammer”. Although it’s been several weeks since my last meet, I’m still adjusting to life without swimming. I miss the routine of getting up early each morning to practice, and knowing that I have to be back at the pool in the afternoon. I miss smelling like chlorine pretty much 24/7 (it has been my signature perfume for the past several years). I miss seeing all of my teammates who I spent almost too much time with. I miss the nerves and adrenaline rushes I would get right before each of my races, and the sensation of feeling effortlessly fast in the water.
I would like to thank my family for always being my #1 fans, and for their infinite love and support throughout my swimming and academic career. Thank you to my coaches who have always pushed me to be a better athlete, teammate, leader, student and competitor. Thank you to my teammates for being the best cheerleaders in and out of the pool and some of my best friends. And of course, thank you to the sport that changed my life.
Patti graduated from Augustana in 2020; she was a double major in communication studies and French, with a minor in entertainment and media studies. She is originally from Northbrook, Ill., but her family relocated to Henderson, Nev. Outside of academics, Patti was a member of the Vikings varsity swim team, director of PR and marketing for HerCampus, and a member of Delta Chi Theta sorority.