Unlike most of the home videos you see of Olympians, I was definitely not a natural swimmer. When I first got into the pool, I could float, but that was about it. When I was first taught to swim butterfly, I just started swimming breaststroke (and, to be honest, sometimes, I still do - fly is definitely not my thing). I began swimming when I was 7 years old, about a month after I was diagnosed with scoliosis, which is no coincidence. My parents had done a ton of research when I was first diagnosed, and found out that a lot of people with scoliosis join a swim team to strengthen their back muscles. While physical therapy and sports, like swimming, have not been proven to reduce spine curvature, they help keep you fit and help your muscles. But above all of this, swimming has become an outlet for me to forget about my scoliosis when I need it.
I started swimming by joining a local club team. Prior to this, I had taken swim lessons, but I wasn't competitive, and could barely swim two laps without taking a breather. Swimming started out as a fun, social part of my life. I only practiced a couple times a week and I spent most of the practice with my friends, splashing in the shallow end. I was in the lowest group and didn’t take swimming seriously.
After a couple years, I moved to a different group with older kids. I went to more practices and started going to swim meets, where I would compete. Slowly, I grew competitive. I wanted to go to championship meets and swim with the older kids. I really realized that I wanted to take swimming seriously when I was about 9 years old. Everyone in my group, aside from a few guppies (including me) were going to a meet all the way in Las Vegas and my team was hosting a big party for them. I remember watching my friends from afar, eating their heap of pasta (watching swimmers eat is fascinating...it's like our stomach is a black hole). That's when I really began to try hard and practice, and my love of swimming grew.
Once I turned 13, my swim team began to offer two practices a day during the summer. But because I wore a Boston brace, and I had to wear the brace a certain amount of time, I couldn’t go to the practices. Ugh I was very upset. I knew that I would be at a disadvantage, as I was getting less practice time than the other swimmers. So, I made sure that I went to as many practices as my back allowed for, and continued to try hard.
There were times, and still are, that it was hard to find the motivation to push myself in practice. When I did poorly at a meet, or I was tired, I would grow frustrated and question whether or not I really wanted to swim, but I kept going. I, like most swimmers, have a love-hate relationship with swimming...it isn't fun when you're dying in practice, but I can't go more than a few days without stopping by the pool. It's addicting.
As I started going to more meets, I met swimmers who had scoliosis, just like me. There were people with scars down their backs from spinal fusion therapy and athletes carrying a back brace around, and I had never seen anything like that. I began to realize that there is a greater community of scoliosis patients than I knew. Then, in sixth grade, I did a research project on Jenny Thompson, an Olympic swimmer, who has scoliosis, and wore a brace. This project helped me realize that scoliosis would not prevent me from achieving my goals, not just in the swimming world, but in life as a whole.
Finally, this past summer, I was allowed to go to two practices a day. It was exhausting, and I complained a lot, but deep down, I loved it. I would go to morning practice, wear my brace until afternoon practice, go to practice, and put on my brace before bed.
I have fallen in love with this sport - like I said, it’s addictive. My body has gotten used to the daily grind and the thrill of the cold water. I started swimming, as therapy, and I never would have guessed that swimming would be such a big part of my life. You don’t have to join a club team or practice a lot, or go to meets to swim. Swimming can be such a great way to adjust to having scoliosis - even if that means going to your community pool once every month, just to swim a couple laps. I could not speak highly enough of this sport and what it has helped me through. Whether you choose to swim, or pursue another sport, just remember, we’re bent, not broken! :)