First vs Last Conference Splash
Co-Written by Sarah Dalgleish '20
For those of you that are not swimmers, I'll give you a little rundown on the topic of this post. Sarah and I are both swimmers on the Oberlin College Swimming and Diving team. Sarah is a mid and distance freestyle swimmer, and I am a sprint freestyle and breaststroke swimmer. Sarah is one of our women's team captains and she's a senior, so this is her last year with the team. I'm a freshman, so this was my first time competing for Oberlin. I have really looked up to Sarah over the season, so I wanted to compare her experiences at conference over the years to my first experience. Conference is the final meet of the season for the swim team, where all the schools in the NCAC conference group come together to swim really fast. Denison and Kenyon usually win, but Oberlin likes to give it our best crack. Without further ado, here is a comparison of our experiences.
First Conference Experience (Tara Draper)
Swimming has always been a passion of mine, so much so that I chose to leave Australia and come to college in the US and swim for Oberlin.
Conference was an amazing feeling for me. I have never been in a place so loud. The energy in the air was electric and it always helped to get me into the zone of the race. Every time I got out of the water, no matter my time, I had teammates lining up to support me and cheering me on. Every time my head broke the surface I could hear someone yelling my name and that helped to spur me on to go faster. As much as I credit my efforts over the course of conference to my hard work this season, I would have to give some credit to my teammates who cheered me on throughout the meet.
My favourite experiences of conference don't really involve the pool at all. My favourite experiences involve the bus rides to and from the pool, laughing and joking with my teammates, and spending time in my hotel room with the people living with me. I stayed with our two female divers, Laura and Sophie, and another swimmer, Julia, who is arguably my best friend on the team. I love the dive team with all my heart (I have been nicknamed dive groupie because I often show up to watch them practice), so this room was already set up to be great fun. My favourite memory of conference is of the four of us, plus the male diver Isaac, hanging out in our room one night. Sophie was trying to teach all of us how to do some gymnastics jumping thing, and we were all just having a great time looking stupid not being able to do it (except for Laura because she's incredibly flexible). We spent hours just jumping around and laughing and talking, and I honestly can't think of a better moment.
Another favourite tradition of mine from conference is that the women's team dye their hair red every season right before conference. I had never dyed my hair before and it really was fun, all cramming into one person's bathroom, putting this temporary dye in our hair to get into the team spirit. And then while it was setting we all made posters to support the team over the week. I really felt like part of the team that night, and it got me really excited to compete.
I love my team with all of my heart and I am so glad that I get to swim for Oberlin. My first conference was a blast and I can't wait for seasons to come.
Last Conference Experience (Sarah Dalgleish)
After 14 years of competitive swimming, it was a completely surreal experience to be at my last meet. I thought I would be a mess of emotions from the first day, so I was surprised by how normal it felt to be at the meet. Tara describes the energy of the competition perfectly; there is a nonstop wall of sound on the pool deck and I found that the atmosphere helped me focus on my races and my teammates’ races instead of thinking about the end of my swim career.
That said, I definitely felt a shift in my perspective compared to my previous years at Conference. Swimming is a tough sport because each time you compete, you know exactly how good your race was compared to every single time you’ve swum the race in the past--which for me is a lot after 14 years. While usually my main focus while preparing to swim is beating my past times, this Conference I found I was much more focused on the future. I wanted to have swims I could be proud of, knowing they were my last.
My final race ever was the 400 freestyle relay, which I swam the final leg of. As I finished the swim, I looked to the side of the pool and saw all my teammates cheering wildly and that’s when it finally set in that my swim career was over. I hopped out of the pool and my teammates surrounded me in a giant group hug. Needless to say I was sobbing. As the only senior on the women’s team, I was worried that my last season would feel a little lonely, but that couldn’t be further from how I felt. I loved being able to pass down our team traditions to Tara and the other new swimmers.
I’m still adjusting to the idea that I am done swimming forever--in swimmer lingo I am now known as a “swammer.” Some of the lasts of this season have been super exciting: I will never have to put on a ridiculously uncomfortable carbon fiber racing suit again, never have to jump in a cold pool at five in the morning or walk around in the Ohio winter with perpetually frozen hair. Other aspects are much sadder. My final swim meet was the first of many lasts that will happen this semester and made me fully realize that I only have one semester left at Oberlin.
The scariest part about finishing my last swim season is the idea of not having a team anymore, since I’ve been playing team sports since I was five. But for this semester, at least, I still get to enjoy being with my teammates. Even though we’re no longer in season, we study and eat and hang out together, red dye still fading in most of our hair. Every time I’m around them, in and out of the pool, I know that they will be just fine without me next year and can’t wait to see all the amazing things they will accomplish in the rest of their time at Oberlin.