By: Gretchen Hegener Rech
Gretchen is a FOSS alumna and former U.S. record holder in the breaststroke. She shares her thoughts on swimming, parenting and life with our readers.
I have never had a fear of water and when I finally learned how to swim, my parents could not get me out of the pool without bribes and threats. (My favorite delaying tactic: Countless bobs underwater so I could pretend not to hear my parents telling me to “Get out!”)
I loved the way that I could move in the water and loved that burning in my lungs as I pushed myself to different levels. Eventually, it would take me to competitive swimming at the University of Minnesota, where I was fortunate to set records in the breaststroke.
My little nuggets love the water as well and identify themselves as swimmers. Hunter (9) and Verity (6) know that swimming is a life skill that is non-negotiable in our family. But that’s not to say we don’t have any challenges when it comes to swimming.
Last year, Hunter joined a swim team here in Colorado. He started out strong and loved the meets so much. But as months passed, he began to realize how much work it was to become a swimmer in the next level. Several times, he would say that he didn’t like practice and wanted to be done.
The first thing I do is put myself in his shoes. I have to remember that I had my own moments wrestling with the same thing. As I grew older, there were times that popped up in my swimming career when I would ask myself many times over, “Why am I doing this? This is so hard! I have to give up a lot to achieve my goals.”
Next, I take parenting lessons from my own parents. I have been blessed with about the most fantastic parents anyone could have asked for. They were not ones to say, “Well, if you don’t like it, just quit” or “Just go ahead and skip practice tonight.” They taught me the skill of pushing through and what the word dedication actually means. The bleeds over into how I am as a person and as a mom.
I have made the quality of dedication a life lesson that can be taught through swimming. Hunter and I talked about how he committed to his team at the beginning of the season, and he needed to fulfill this commitment by finishing out the last meet of the season. He did it and worked his tail off. The look of satisfaction on his face at the end of the season is one that makes me a proud parent.
Verity, on the other hand, loves swimming lessons and I am not sure I have heard even a little hesitation from her when it comes to being in the water and learning new skills. I see a lot of me in her with how she loves to be in the water and the joy she gets from it.
I have no idea if my children will follow in my footsteps of competitive swimming. What matters to me is that they develop the skill of becoming a life-long swimmer at whatever level they want—competitive or recreational. It’s not about the medals and ribbons, but about helping children be competent swimmers, and how swimming teaches kids to be dedicated, accountable, and able to overcome challenges.