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A reflection on endings and buoyancy

March 27, 2020

About a month ago, I swam in my last race ever: the 200 butterfly at the NESCAC Championships. My coaches told me my fly had been looking good. My teammates were cheering me on behind the blocks. I had worked hard for a long time (13 years, to be exact), giving my all to every practice, staying late to work on technique and perfecting a warm-up routine that worked for me. I was excited to see my hard work pay off, because that’s how I  thought these things ought to go. And then I dove in, and I could feel my body give up on me. It was a painfully slow race, my time didn’t make it back for finals, and so my swim career was over. I felt blindsided and betrayed by the sport that I loved. My goggles filled with tears as I blew angry bubbles from the bottom of the warm-down pool.

My swim coach, however, has always told me that I am extra buoyant (“light bones,” he says), so I have a hard time staying on the bottom of the pool for long. I quickly floated back up, and rallied to cheer on my teammates. Because, really, moping alone felt like a shitty alternative.

A month ago today, I wrote a submission for Talk of the Quad about the end of my swim career. Here is an excerpt from what I wrote that day:

“Things don’t always end the way we want them to. As a senior getting ready to graduate, this is something I am coming to terms with more and more, and I can’t say it’s easy. Sure, people say that every ending is a new beginning, or something like that. But that doesn’t make those endings any less painful. I know that I will keep swimming, but it won’t be the same as swimming for my team. That kind of swimming is over, and it’s an ending that I know will hurt for a while. I also know, however, that the only thing I can control about how my time with swimming ended is how I respond to it. I have a whole lot of gratitude for the sport that taught me that I am buoyant, and that, even when I sink, eventually I will have to float on up.”

Sounds nice enough. Little did I know that a month later, I would be moving out of Bowdoin permanently to go practice social distancing due to a global health crisis. But, of course, things don’t always end the way we want them to.

Kayla Snyder

The end of my swim career was painful, but nowhere near as painful as my drive away from the Tower Circle, watching my best friends disappear in my rearview mirror. I am sure that my fellow seniors are feeling the same kind of pain at having our time with friends cut short at the place that has been home for the last four years. I know that I will see my friends again, but it won’t be the same as trickling into Moulton Light Room together for a Sunday morning brunch. That is over. I wrote that cute thing a month ago about being buoyant despite disappointment, but there’s no getting around it now. It sucks.

Of course, there is something going on now that is bigger than a sucky ending, bigger than all of us. It is a scary time. My heart goes out to my classmates who do not have stable homes to return to or do not have the means to return home, who are immunocompromised or have immunocompromised family members—to anyone who is vulnerable during this time. As much as leaving Bowdoin hurts, we must do the right thing and stay home in order to flatten the curve and keep our communities safe. But I do not want to write about the coronavirus for my Talk of the Quad because there is enough being written about it right now, and I hope we are all reading.

Despite everything that has happened in the last month, the same truth remains: Things don’t always end the way we want them to. We can work hard, try to do everything right, and there will still always be things we don’t have control over. This is a hard reality to face, and all I can say to my fellow seniors is that I am glad to be facing it together (even if “together” now means over Houseparty). Truthfully, I am not feeling super buoyant right now, but I still do believe that we have control over how we respond to life’s endings, even when those endings do not happen on our own terms. I may not have another MLR brunch to look forward to, but I have friendships that I know will last beyond that horrible yellow wallpaper. We can all check in on each other, make good decisions for ourselves and our communities and carry on with the bits of Bowdoin that we always hold with us. Because, really, moping alone is a shitty alternative.

Julianna Kiley is a member of the Class of 2020.

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