By Hamlin Williams-Tracy
MS Staff Writer
I first fell in love with water playing with my older brother at Charlotte Swim and Racquet Club. After that, I became a summer-league “shrimp.”
Then I joined a year-round team – and it changed my life.
My youth and teenage years were defined by the grind of practices with Aquatic Team of Mecklenburg (ATOM). As I grew, so did my passion for the team and the sport.
Thankfully, I still have three years at Swarthmore College to expand my horizons, both in and out of the water.
But here are three things swimming has taught me:
1. A BETTER ‘YOU’ EXISTS
During my time in high school, I saw swimming as a collection of milestones, each bigger than the last. The prize at the end: being recruited to join a college swim team. Every cut, championship meet, and race was an opportunity to prove to myself, and to my teammates, how hard I had been working – and to get closer to my goal.
A desire quickly became an obsession. Soon, splits and times were written down on the home screen of my phone, reminders of who I wanted to become.
Every serious swimmer understands the constant tug-of-war between recognizing their current abilities and their vision of who they want to be. It’s this incessant struggle that motivates people to achieve their dreams; the idea that a better version of oneself exists.
2. BELIEVE IN BELIEF
Showing up every day and working hard is not enough. I had to believe in the hard work I was doing. That meant I left every practice knowing that I gave everything that I had, every day, every season.
Swimming is quantifiable. Almost every part of the sport can be broken down into a comparable value. Times, splits, dolphin kicks, and stroke counts all play an important role in defining a swimmer.
It’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes you compare your current self to what you did in the past, and you don’t like what you see. I’m not a big believer in blind faith, so the only response is to be confident in your effort. That builds faith.
My ATOM coach sophomore year in high school called it “putting hay in the barn.” You see, the hard work you do in practice can be looked at as “hay” that you have to work to generate in order to put into your “barn.”
Once it comes time to race you can look back at all the hard work you’ve done up until that point and say, “if I can do that, then I can do this.”
Having this mindset allowed me to tackle the largest challenges in and out of the pool. I’m able to quantify my experiences and feel confident that the person who achieved those things in the past is still the same capable person today.
3. PIECES MAKE THE PICTURE
College has brought new challenges. But applying what swimming taught me has not changed. Any problem can be broken down into smaller chunks, then tackled individually. If I do each of those pieces to the best of my abilities, they should fit together into a complete picture.
In many ways, school mirrors swimming. You work for six months on a specific subject, with the end goal being to make the highest grade possible.
Every class is an opportunity to learn as much as possible. Periodically you are tested and benchmarked on your performance through quizzes, papers, midterms and exams. If you took the necessary steps to prepare yourself for the exam, likely your results will be at or above your expectations.
I believe that swimming is an excellent way to stress test these lessons in a safe environment. There is no cheating to get to the result, no shortcut, or magic solution that will make you the swimmer you want to be. Believe in yourself and work hard. You get out what you put in.
About Ham Williams-Tracy
Ham has been active in the swimming world since he was eight years old. Currently, he is a sophomore at Swarthmore College studying English Literature and Economics. He specializes in 400 IM, 500 free, and 200 butterfly. Ham swam for the Aquatic Team of Mecklenburg and Myers Park High School prior to enrolling at Swarthmore.