“Swimming is Oxygen”
By Alexander B. Wilson
Swimming is oxygen for me. It feels funny to say that since swimming requires so much oxygen and lung capacity and breath control but, for me, swimming is a lifeline that has meant everything and it continues to motivate and inspire me.
Growing up, I moved many times due to my mother’s career. We moved from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Janesville, Wisconsin to Tucson, Arizona to Columbus, Ohio to Cleveland, Ohio to Freeport, Illinois. Six moves in 8 years. Throughout each move, swimming was a constant. I took lessons, enjoyed countless free-swim afternoons at the neighborhood YMCA and, later, I swam for the Tucson La Paloma Club Team, the Delaware YMCA Riptide and the Freeport Aquatic Swim Team. I swam for Freeport Middle School, Freeport Junior High School and now, I swim for Freeport Senior High School. We’re the Pretzels and our tagline is “You can Eat Us, but You Can’t Beat Us!” It’s a funny mascot and a funnier tagline but we have serious Pretzel Pride!
Each time we moved, it meant new friends, new environment and new school but swimming was always constant, and it was a great equalizer. Nobody cared how many times you had moved if you could contribute to the Team and be a good teammate. Swimming was my way in to meet new friends and helped me to not miss the old ones. I met my best friend through swimming and, even now, I’m friends with my former swimmer friends. We follow each other on the MeetUp App, we share our times and, although we may be far away, swimming bridges the gap and helps us stay connected.
Swimming has also taught me a lot of life lessons along the way. I learned just how much swimming can be a life-long passion when I watched my Delaware Riptide Coach, Axel Birnbrich, bust out his Speedo and challenge the fastest high school swimmer to a 50 Free …and he almost beat him at age 53! Coach Axel swam for The Ohio State and was an Olympic Trial qualifier but he did not get the chance to go to the Olympics due to the fact that the US boycotted the Games. Even though he missed the biggest swimming opportunity of his life, he didn’t seem bitter and he turned his love of swimming into coaching. When I saw him race that day, he looked so happy and it made me think about how great it is that he still loves something that started so many years ago.
In 2018, I attended University of Wisconsin Swim Camp where I learned how swimming could break you down and build you back up. I walked in thinking I was going to be great, but I was probably the worst swimmer in the Natatorium. I had never worked so hard in my life but, despite my efforts on that first day, I was not even close to the fastest kids. I called my Mom that night and begged her to come and get me. I wanted to give up but, she made me stay, and, because of that, I learned how to be resilient. I learned a lot of humility and the coaches taught me how to “swim my own race” and work to develop my skills instead of worrying about everyone else. I improved so much during camp that I went back again in 2019 and plan to return in 2021. When I returned in 2019, the counselors were amazed at how much I had developed and now, I was in the fast lanes with the fastest kids. It was the best feeling!
Swimming has also helped me manage my ADD and become a better student. I have a 3.5 GPA taking Honors and AP classes and I know that swimming helps me stay focused during school, burn off energy and hold on to a positive attitude. It’s been especially helpful during COVID as I have continued to train even though our school has been shut down for remote learning. Throughout COVID, I have continued to train with my Club Swimming Coach with a focus on weight training and technique. Over the Summer, I stayed busy by working for an asphalt sealcoating company and am involved with YMCA Camp Minikani as a volunteer camp counselor and “leader in training.” I’ve stayed busy with lots of things but without swimming, I would have felt so much more isolated during the pandemic and I would have lacked a goal to help me get through the COVID shut-down periods.
Like I said…swimming is oxygen for me. I can’t live without it! It’s given me friends, purpose, life lessons and a mind-set that has proven to me that if you focus on “swimming your own race,” there is nothing you can’t achieve. Now, with this foundation, my goal is to attend a college where I can swim at the highest level and earn an excellent education. I am looking to join a team of competitive swimmers who support each other and work together to achieve success. It's also important to me to find a Swim Coach who values academics and athletics and who is willing to invest in me to help me grow into a high-achieving adult.