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  • Reid Pezewski, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Uncharted Waters: From Novice Swimming to Nationals

Navigating the Uncharted Waters of Growth

As I reflect on the conference I attended in Austin, TX, I am reminded of the twists and turns that have shaped both my swimming journey and my involvement with the National Millennial and Generation Z (NMGZ) community. What started as a timid leap into the pool during my high school years culminated in medals on the national stage. In this reflection, I share the story of how I transcended my limitations and found a parallel between my swimming voyage and the ethos of NMGZ.

Navigating the Abyss - Triumph Through Struggle

My plunge into swimming was marked by sheer ineptitude. Diving, turns, strokes – all seemed like foreign concepts. My initial 50-yard freestyle clocked just under 40 seconds – a far cry from competitive. Anxiety gripped me, causing me to call in sick to my first meets and tell my family not to come to meets and watch me lose.

But amidst the struggle, a tenacious fire burned. With every awkward stroke, I pushed against my limitations. By season's end, the Most Improved Player award validated my resilience. A glimmer of victory emerged in the pool, as I triumphed over a fellow swimmer in the 100 freestyle and I was able to perform the 500 freestyle with each turn a proper flip turn.

These early battles, though disheartening, laid the foundation for growth. They taught me that progress springs not solely from talent, but from unyielding perseverance in the face of adversity.

The Evolution: Stroke by Stroke

Under the guidance of a new coach, my sophomore year heralded a transformation. Progress was incremental, yet discernible – breaking 30 seconds in the 50 freestyle felt monumental and I finally felt comfortable swimming in front of spectators. I garnered recognition as the "Most Improved Player" a second time, an emblem of my dedication to growth. A mentorship role beckoned, and I embraced it wholeheartedly, nurturing the potential of incoming freshman swimmers.

Waves of Leadership: Captaining the Team

As the waves of my journey surged forward, a pivotal juncture awaited in my junior year. With the arrival of a former Division I NCAA coach best described as a feisty Texan, the waters of my swimming odyssey gained new currents of energy and expertise. Under his guidance, the evolution of my skills took on a new dimension.

Earning the captaincy during this transformative phase was a poignant milestone, resonating far beyond the pool. It stood as a reflection of my growth, both as an athlete and as a leader. This responsibility wasn't just about leading by example – it was about inspiring a collective dedication that extended to every member of the team. Coach Doug, with his relentless dedication, pushed us to venture beyond our comfort zones, reshaping our perspectives on what was achievable.

In mirroring his unwavering commitment, I embraced the challenge of not only honing my own skills but also becoming a mentor to the newcomers. Just as Doug's guidance had elevated my capabilities, I took it upon myself to uplift our younger swimmers. The medals we amassed in relays were a testament to the synchronicity we had cultivated – a harmony that extended beyond the water and into the heart of our team's spirit.

Senior Surge: Embracing the Water

My senior year marked the zenith of my swimming journey, a culmination of growth, dedication, and a profound connection to the water. This chapter of my tale began with a journey that echoed my earliest days as a novice – trying cross country for the first time ever on my quest to reach the state championship in swimming. Poor as I was at running, I managed to lose 30 pounds and was able to hit the water swimming upon the end of the running season.

The echoes of cross-country trials from the prior season fueled my determination, providing a sense of synergy between my athletic endeavors. As I surged forward, my strokes were infused with an unquenchable hunger, each movement a testament to the strides I had taken since those tentative dives and faltering turns.

Yet, this year held a realization that transcended the pursuit of titles. I recognized that the time had come to pass the torch to my mentees, to ensure that the legacy of commitment and growth would be perpetuated. With the knowledge that I could impact others as I had been impacted, I dedicated myself to setting them on the path to success. The pool, once an arena of personal challenges, had become a platform for empowerment.

Through dedication and grit, I etched personal bests into my memory. A 23.9-second 50 freestyle, a 58-second 100 freestyle, and a 1:08 100 breaststroke – these times not only symbolized my progress but also served as markers of the passion I had poured into each stroke.

This was the year I realized that swimming wasn't just an activity – it was a part of who I had become, a testament to the depths of perseverance and a conduit for passing the torch to the next generation of swimmers.

A Surprise Revival: Embracing US Masters Swimming

Three years and thirty pounds removed from my last competition, a dormant desire to compete burst back to life, setting the stage for a surprising chapter in my journey. Entering into the world of US Masters Swimming after three years of treating swimming as nothing more than my exercise, I entered the waters with a mix of trepidation and determination.

Stepping onto the pool deck as a US Masters swimmer, I found myself swimming alongside individuals whose journeys spanned generations. The eclectic blend of ages and backgrounds formed a tapestry of shared passion – a testament to the enduring allure of the sport. Among the ranks was a 90-year-old swimmer whose dedication embodied the timeless spirit of swimming, a reminder that this sport transcends the boundaries of age.

Returning to the competitive scene was a leap of faith, a decision that propelled me from the familiar waters of local meets to the grand stage of nationals. With hard work would come medals, state championships, state records, and eventually national qualifications – these milestones, though not without their share of disappointments, became the markers of my unyielding tenacity.

While attending nationals in sunny and humid Sarasota, I confronted the culmination of my efforts. The unforgiving clock at the end of the pool was both a reminder of the challenge and harsh weather conditions, but also served as a beacon of promise. This wasn't merely a test of physical prowess; it was a testament to the resilience and determination that had carried me through every stroke, every race, and every setback.

While my performance bore moments of faltering, those same waters witnessed my triumphs. My strokes, now honed through years of dedication, propelled me to earn medals in the 50-meter breaststroke, 200-meter medley relay, and 200-meter freestyle relay events at nationals. These medals, gleaming symbols of accomplishment, reflected not just the culmination of my journey, but also the sparks of inspiration that would fuel my future aspirations.

Bridging the Parallel: NMGZ and the Spirit of Exploration

Enter NMGZ – an endeavor akin to my swimming journey. As I reflect on my last conference, I recognize the synergy between my growth and NMGZ's ethos. NMGZ Director, Bill Imada's vision resonates deeply – expanding horizons, challenging perceptions, and fostering connections across generational, professional, and socioeconomic lines. Just as swimming beckoned me beyond my comfort zone, NMGZ conferences are voyages into the unknown.

From novice swimming to nationals, my swimming journey intertwines with the spirit of NMGZ's mission. Both have propelled me beyond my comfort zone, defying stereotypes and embracing growth. Just as I ventured into the realms of cross country and swimming, NMGZ embodies the essence of exploration and connection. I am forever indebted to Bill Imada, Coach Doug Dickinson, and the collective force that shaped me into a professional, an athlete, and a person who thrives in uncharted waters.


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