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The Swimming Subculture (November-December 2009)

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by , November 1st, 2009 at 01:00 AM (1365 Views)
In Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, a subculture is defined as “an ethnic, regional, economic, or social group exhibiting characteristic patterns of behavior sufficient to distinguish it from others within an embracing culture or society.”

One can indeed argue that Masters Swimming is a subculture in our society. Most of us have nonswimming friends and family that embrace us in spite of our strange proclivity for rising before dawn, braving unsavory weather, jumping into a concrete box of water and swimming back and forth for hours. This can make family reunions and cookouts with our nonswimmers interesting. Sometimes they view us as eccentric and amusing, but not really all there mentally. And some, in a less amusing light, albeit a sometimes-justified one, see us as selfish in our endless pursuit of that black line.

Our fellow swimmers, however, offer us that no-need-to-say-anything sense of comfort that comes in the box with a subculture. The camaraderie is almost effortless, even for people stepping onto the pool deck for the first time. It always amazes me when I see a new swimmer approach with trepidation what many of us now consider our lifestyle, only to see them a month later joking and laughing with their lanemates as though they were lifelong friends. They bring their bikes to practice so they can ride together afterward, plan weekend trips with their families, and organize their free time around their new team of friends.

As humans are sometimes wont to do, I used to think that my teammates and I had this special connection exclusively, that our team was, well, extra special. And of course it is to me. But, from reading all your letters and emails, and re-reading back issues of SWIMMER, it is clear that this phenomenon is widespread in the USMS community. And it goes beyond friendship or your standard social fare. Many of us know someone who has cooked and delivered meals to an injured teammate they barely know, or seen an entire team close ranks in support of a swimming family hit with a devastating loss.

This subculture phenomenon is also prevalent in high-stress or high-demand professions such as medicine and emergency services. It would be interesting to know how many USMS members hail from professions like these, and who find solace in a different kind of subculture. One derived from a more pleasurable form of stress, where racing a teammate to the wall before dawn might not be the most important thing they have to do that day, but is every bit as rewarding.

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Updated July 1st, 2014 at 11:56 AM by Editor

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