By: Maggie Pope

I have been a swimmer for 18 years. It is the first thing people know about me. It is how I identify myself and how others identify me — “You’re on the swim team.” — and I am proud of that.

It’s been 18 years of jumping headfirst into seemingly freezing water. Eighteen years of funny tan lines in the summers and frozen hair in the winters. It’s been waking up at 5 a.m. before school to squeeze in an extra training session. It’s been road trips on weekends to race two sessions a day for four days and make up all of the homework I missed while I was gone.

In a little over a month, all of that changes.

People always told me that college would go by fast, but they never told me how fast. In the blink of an eye, I went from a scared and uncertain freshman to a still-scared and still-uncertain senior. It turns out, what happened during that blink has changed me forever. It was made up of laughter and pain. It was made up of 5 a.m. practices and four day meets. But more than anything, it was made up of people.

No matter how hard a practice got or how long it had been since I last went a best time, the people in my life made it all worth it. Every coach I had from age four to 21, every teammate that trained alongside me, and every friend that danced with me behind the blocks made swimming the best part of my life, but the girls of Spider Swim and Dive have taken that to a whole new level.

They are the most encouraging and uplifting group of people I know. They are hardworking and determined. They are strong and smart and beautiful. They are brave, and they are kind, and they have changed me and molded me in all of the best ways.

It’s easy for me to say, after 18 years, that I’m a little bit glad to be done swimming. It has been hard, and it has broken me at times, but it will never be anything that I will have regretted doing. Even though I am ready, and mentally prepared, to be finished with the training and the racing and all of that, I will never be ready to let go of the people that have made swimming everything it is to me. I did it all for them. Luckily for me, I won’t have to.

There aren’t a lot of things that come close to being on a team at this level. It’s a different kind of special. When you’re in college, your mom doesn’t drive you to practice. Your teammate does. Your parents don’t buy you lunch after a long competition. Your coach does. My team has been my family since I left home three and a half years ago, and they will continue to be my family long after I leave. Even though I won’t be a swimmer anymore, I will still be a Spider, and that is more than I could have ever asked for.