Individual is a memoir about a swim session where we swam the main set that wasn’t necessarily difficult, but something I’ve always avoid training. The main point is allowing the audience to feel a sense of understanding and being able to relate to situations written from a swimmer’s perspective. The title Individual contains different meanings; the set we swam was an individual medley, it represents swimming that’s an individual sport, therefore, needing to overcome mental obstacles you meet, individually.
Set in the summer break at the clubhouse pool creates a bright and relaxed mood, which was then supported with imagery talking about the warmth and the “pastel clouds”. The reference towards “school is starting in less than a month” is meant to evoke a feeling of dreadfulness—an introduction or foreshadow to the other disappointments and hardships yet to come. A lexical cluster of words related to water, like “arctic ocean”, “breezy” and “evaporated” are used to connect to the overarching idea of swimming.
To make this memoir more impactful, firstly, I included relatable situations, mentioning Instagram, because social media takes up a huge part of our lives, and Instagram is one of them. Secondly, common conflicts swimmers would go through using imagery, similes (“felt like…”), analogies (“stranded in open ocean”), and shifts from the first person to second person narration, creating a direct interaction from writer to reader. This allows non-swimmers to also understand the battles swimmers endure. Lastly, the use of colloquial language and Chinese, which strengthens the evoking sense pathos.
The overall theme is the importance of having mental strength and its significance in individual sports. The conclusion reflects how after years of swimming, mental toughness is something I have yet to achieve. This is exemplified when I stated how I stopped and when the training session “disappeared” as easily as the aches of my body. Furthermore, giving up is substantially easier than continuing on, which is a lesson I’ve taken away from that summer’s swim training.
Can I say, I hate training—but then again, at times I enjoy it so much, all that runs through my mind is about the next training session. Training is hard to describe; only swimmers understand the pain of it. Practices are essential for swimming, for anything actually, but it’s the constant state of struggling to continue on, that makes it something I dread.
I’ve been swimming competitively since I was 8, adding up to thousands of training sessions; which really means, numerous times where I suffered through a lengthy practice. I’m not saying that all practices were hard, it’s just that sets gradually increase in difficulty as I get older; it’s a natural process I knew I had to go through.
It was the end of summer, aka school is starting in less than a month. A warm Thursday evening spent at the clubhouse swim pool while the sun was beginning to set behind the pastel clouds. I remember thinking, every time there was a pretty sunset, I would always be stuck in the pool. Training. While everyone else was probably taking photos to update their Instagram feed.
At every session, our coach would share the sets for that day’s practice. After we finally dove into the arctic ocean and finished the breezy warm-up, it was time for the main set. My heart sank all over again, just like the time when those words came out of the coach’s lips “4×400 meters individual medley. Odds split by 2×200’s and evens swimming the full 400 meters”. The moment everyone has been anticipating for has come. As usual, at least one person would find an excuse to extend the resting period. Not that I’m complaining, extra rest is a necessity. I would follow in and fix my perfectly crystalline goggles.
By far, this was the set I hated the most. Two 400’s is tiring enough, so let’s only talk about the first half through.
“备走!” (bei4 zou3) (Ready go!)
It was the first 400 meters.
I pushed off the wall and swiftly swam butterfly. I remembered to keep my body position high and light, so I’d glide through the water. However, that didn’t even last 50 meters when my arms began to fail. I’d sneak in a few one-arm strokes, but I knew I needed to continue on. After all, it was the first 50 of the first half of the first 400. That’s the least I can do. Butterfly was draining, so backstroke usually becomes my repowering lap. Floating on your back with a slight flutter kick sounds quite relaxing to those non-swimmers but trust me, after that butterfly, it’s the worst possible feeling. You know the soreness and numbing sensation when you run too much? And you need to stop to catch your breath? That is the feeling, except it’s your entire body. You’re lying on your back panting while struggling to breathe in without choking on the flying droplets of chlorinated water. That’s the situation. Now breaststroke. My favorite part. The main and only reason being that I’m a breaststroker, so I’d always be able to catch up or beat others during this lap. Reach, pull, squeeze, shoot, head down… For freestyle, the only thought I allowed to go through in my head was “just swim”. And it works, under some circumstances. The times where it’s actually not ok would be now. By the third stroke of the butterfly, I took a huge breath and dived underwater to take a rest and came back up. This continued on unless my lungs felt like they were going to collapse, then I’d do one arm strokes. Even the backstroke portion wasn’t enough of a rest, and I no longer can sustain the momentum during the breaststroke. The second I reach the wall on the last freestyle stroke, I looked up and said: “我不行了” (wo3 bu4 xing2 le) (“I can’t do this anymore”). My coach simply replied with silence. She ignored me and just blew her whistle for the next 400. At these moments, I’d feel both annoyed yet grateful that coach didn’t give me the chance to stop because I’d just end up losing the state of mind and not getting much out of the set.
I pushed off the wall as hard as I could to get maximum glide for my underwater. I needed as much momentum possible to make the butterfly feel less like I’m drowning, to state it bluntly. I don’t even know why I was complaining about the 200 split 400 meters, the full 400 is nothing in comparison, the exhaustion level actually skyrocketed. The butterfly portion is honestly torturing. What can I say, I’m a “Sucker for Pain”. My shoulders ached as I could barely skid my arms over the water’s surface, while my lungs needed oxygen after all the gliding after each stroke. I seriously can’t do this. At every wall, I’d hold on for seconds longer to get my breath back, and off I went to the never-ending laps. At last, I survived the horrendous 400 meters IM. Seeing my expression, my coach said, “不行也得坚持” (bu4 xing2 ye3 dei3 jian1 chi2) (“even if you can’t, you still got to continue on”).
Forgetting about the aches and turning it into evidence showing that I’m becoming stronger, I’d work to maintain my previous speed. Just to let you know, this doesn’t always happen…successfully continuing on I mean. In most cases, I end up giving up; where this training session is a perfect example. In case you were wondering, I ended up cruising the next 400 meters. Anyways, I’d try to maintain a positive mindset, but having mental strength is the hardest part. It’s been all these years, but I’m still struggling. At the mid-stage of the set, there’s a burning ache coming from my heart and lungs due to the literal absence of oxygen; the heaviness in the arms overtakes, telling my legs to pick up the pace. Now is the exact moment where I have the feeling of being stranded in the open ocean. And when you finally spot land, countless emotions hit you at once; whether its gratefulness, fatigue, excitement, or disappointment; all you know is that you’re thankful it’s all over. All I want to do now is stop, which is precisely what I did. Something even more disappointing happened. I had to live through the dreadful process where your body doesn’t feel better right away. I went through the ‘calming down’ stages where my limbs were soaking in soreness, but in the end, the pain disappeared, and so did the training session.