The hollow echoes of a natatorium are a distinct sound. They can only be heard by a few. The first ripples of the water are made by the dedicated…the determined. These athletes begin their mornings far earlier than most – and their parents even earlier. They are committed. Committed to a life of swimming.
Most of us have fond childhood memories of playing in a pool or lake: the endless games of Marco-Polo and Sharks and Minnows, jumps, flips, cannon balls and belly flops off the diving board. There was always ‘the one’ relative that could create more waves than a tropical storm and throw us in the air higher than our parents were really comfortable with. We flipped numerous friends over while they innocently rested on their floats. No doubt the pool was the place to be during the hot Georgia summers.
Meet the swimmer.
Imagine an eight year old kid waking up on summer break every morning before the sun comes up, jumping into his swim suit, grabbing a towel and eating a quick bite of breakfast before heading to the pool. Not too hard to picture, right?
But this kid doesn’t get to play when he gets there. He gets to swim. And I say gets to swim, because it is a privilege. And most swimmers see it as just that. They will spend the next couple of hours at the pool finishing lap after lap, stroke after stroke. It is a choice made by them and constantly supported by their parents.
Bryan Lee began swimming during the summer when he was eight. He was swimming before, but more along the Marco-Polo line of things. This particular summer was the beginning of his life as a swimmer.
I consider all athletes, regardless of the sport, amazing testaments of human strength and drive. The sheer veracity of will they possess is enviable. (I cry at every Olympic story told by Bryant Gumble.) So many overcome life changing circumstances that would cripple most of us. They dig deeper than we can understand and always deliver. When they occasionally fall, we cry out for them. It’s like they represent that little part inside of us that believes we can all do it. The truth is, we all can, if we so choose. Bryan made that choice.
After he swam and competed for a few years, he knew this was what he wanted to do. Thankfully, his parents (Russell and Debbie Lee) agreed. Bryan began to swim year round, not just for summer swim team. Any parents of year round swimmers know the struggle is real: the early mornings, the hours in the car driving to and from practices and meets.
Living in Henry County meant driving to Rockdale for swim practice for the Lee’s. Here Bryan began his miles and miles of laps every day. And Bryan’s parents spent hours and hours waiting. Clearly the parents cannot be overlooked!
By the age of 14, Bryan had moved into the top 20 in the state. He and his parents had transitioned to Macon and finally landed with Swim Atlanta at Georgia Tech. He was a ‘distance freestyler’ which, I am told, is the least glorifying event to swim. The shorter races always seem to attract the excitement and cheers. But the stamina it takes to swim a mile in a competitive setting is admirable.
There is a certain quality that Bryan and many swimmers posses that propels them to greatness. They are good time managers. They have to be. Bryan spends an average of 20 plus hours a week in the pool. Factor in drive time, school, homework and sleep…and you are hardly left with enough time to consume the amount of calories needed to stay moving! Bryan burns around 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day! It is a daunting task to consider how to replace those calories with good food choices and not just eat 25 hamburgers. This can also be a disconcerting task for mom and dad to provide the food required.
Training is an intricate part of any swimmer’s life. In addition to the practice hours and food choices comes the important decision of who will train you and who will you train with? These are pivotal points in the career of a swimmer. Bryan was fortunate to have a mother who was a competitive swimmer and anticipated his needs. Finding his home at Swim Atlanta meant finding his coach, Olympic swimmer Dough Gjertsen. The two have worked together for years. And the hard work shows.
His hours in the pool led to a scholarship for Bryan Lee to the University of Auburn (War Eagles). In addition to swimming on a historically strong men’s team, he plans to get his MBA… An accomplishment I’m sure will be ‘a walk in the park’ compared to the rigorous regimen he has kept for over half his life.
Swimming is different for all of us. But, for Bryan and the others that choose to swim competitively, there is freedom in the water. Watch them fly.
By Jodi Hitt