I remember my first boyfriend like it was yesterday. His name was Trae, and he was the cutest, most obnoxious boy I think I have ever met in my life. Second semester, junior year of high school, he asked me out at our Swimming States after party.
Although I was playing hard-to-get at first, I eventually gave in to his pearly white smile and stupid Australian accent (I’m grossed out just talking about him… ugh). We were obsessed with each other for four months straight, but our relationship was just as high school as we were, and what I thought were “passionate feelings”, were purely two 17-year-olds mistaking drama and highs/lows for “true love”.
Just as we were crazy for each other one day, the next day he would do something stupid and I would end up breaking up with him, for a day. The day before prom, I recall, we got into a huge argument over how he said he was “moving to Alabama” (long story, but it was not true), and I broke up with him the day before prom. Of course we got back together the day of prom and had a magical night, but that’s beside the point. If there has ever been a love/hate relationship, it was “Paige and Trae”.
I always wanted to free myself and break up with that stupid Australian (I am not saying Australians are stupid at all! Just that one…), but I thought I “needed” him and “loved him” so much that I was more miserable without him than I was with all of the drama. Once I finally got sick of his s**t and kicked him to the curb, I grieved for months about “losing the love of my life,” and I thought I would never find that level of passion and “crazy-about-you love” that I had with Trae.
As it turns out, I remember Mr. Australian and cherish all of the things he taught me, but our on-off relationship was not healthy–in fact, it was miserable. In essence, my on-off relationship with Boyfriend #1 was like my on-off relationship with swimming after I got injured, and I am sure many injured athletes can relate to that feeling of loss.
It probably sounds preposterous to relate being an injured competitive athlete to an on-off relationship with a sexy Australian (well I thought he was sexy back then), but hear me out. Just as I met Trae during junior year, I was battling a two-year shoulder injury that required me to get surgery and take time out of a sport that was my “identity” and lifeline.
Without swimming, I was miserable. With swimming, I was in pain from my injury, constantly. My sport, in essence, had taken me from just Paige to “Paige Swimmermann the swimmer chick” and I didn’t want to let that label go.
I lived and breathed swimming, and it was my dream to swim for UF in college since I was nine years old. Getting the sports injury the end of my freshman year of high school should have been a sign to let go, but just like an on-off relationship, I was that athlete that refused to withdraw from my sport, even though the constant pain I was in made me miserable.
Just like with Trae, I would have rather been miserable in a sport than without one. It takes courage to move on from something that you love so much, whether it be a relationship or a sport, but you will be more grateful in the end when you finally take the leap.
Sports, just like relationships, require time and commitment, and sometimes can be hard to handle. Learning to let go of something so important as a sport at which you excel can be really hard, but if you are permanently injured, do you really have a choice? Approximately 51% of athletes experience depression with injury, and this can get severe, with 12% of that population being suicidal, and the numbers get even higher in college (Athletes Injuries Go Beyond the Physical, New York Times 2000).
Sports define so many people. I know what it is like to not be able to identify yourself with one anymore. Like all other injured athletes, I went through the stages of denial, depression, anger, and finally acceptance, but it took a full “who am I” crisis and two years of fighting my situation to realize that swimming had its beautiful place in my life, but it was time to move on. Now in college without a sport, it was tough at first to adjust to not having an instant group of friends in a sports team, or having something to identify myself, but there is also a freedom of not being “the swimmer girl” anymore. I love being allowed to be anyone I want to these days. Life without swimming, just like life without Trae, is awesome and drama-free!
To anyone who is going through a bad breakup or sports injury (they honestly are similar I promise), you will get through it and laugh about it later. I thought my life was over when swimming ended, and I was heartbroken when Trae and I were officially over, but life always works out in the end. Those memories are upsetting, but also wonderful and will be cherished forever. As the cliché goes, nothing lasts forever, and although whatever you are going through now can seem overwhelming and life-changing, just recall this article and how I am telling you to never doubt who you are and your purpose in life. Hold your head high and stay the amazing person that you are, and whatever your struggle is, it will make you stronger. I promise.