When Swimmers Collide


Anyone who’s swum team practices at any age knows it – constant, close contact in a pool with narrow lanes crammed with swimmers makes it inevitable – you’re going to collide with teammates.

I’ve been in and seen a lot of pool mishaps during my years. Among the most common? Swimmers running into each other within the same lane (e.g. backstroker unknowingly running down the swimmer ahead of them, poor circle- or split-lane sharing skills, newbie swimmers who have yet to grasp how to go in/out of walls to avoid the swimmers both ahead and behind them, etc.), one swimmer clipping another off of a dive or jump entry, backstrokers slamming their heads into the wall, freestylers and backstrokers smashing their heels on the deck on a flip turn (I’m looking at you, Robin!), broken fingers from strong wall finishes, and much, much, more.

My worst personal swim collision is a little twist on another very common incident – the paddle clip. Every competitive swimmer has their fair share of hand, finger, and wrist bruises from getting whacked by a teammate who’s crushing a pull set while wearing paddles the size of dinner plates. (In fact, I suspect a lot of the reported broken finger and hand “training accidents” which seem to be on the rise among elite female swimmers is from getting clipped by their male teammates.)

However, as an age grouper, I got nailed in the mouth with a paddle during a long freestyle pull set as one of my friends was coming off the wall while I headed in. With the kind of impact that causes immediate, impressive swelling. Most of the time I can “swim through” collisions and other ailments, but this time I had to get out immediately for icing. And there was also the blood – my eyetooth tore a big patch of skin in my mouth.

The swelling went down a bit that night at home, but my mouth started puffing up again in class the next morning. This caused quite the stir, as you can imagine, with teachers wondering if I was getting smacked around at home. They were slow to accept the “training accident’ explanation. After all, this was an era when girls pursuing sports seriously wasn’t the norm—even establishing the girls’ varsity swim team was still a few years off. A few phone calls later however, I was back in class with an ice pack. The cut took a long time to heal, however. Large, jagged mouth cuts are constantly aggravated, no matter how little you eat or despite multiple, daily salt-water mouthwashes.

Today, my current masters team SCY training pool has super narrow lanes. It’s a daily miracle when I get through the pull set without getting clipped, especially as I don’t wear paddles – I feel particularly vulnerable. As such, just accepting that I’m going to have black and blue fingers and hands during the indoor SCY season was a tad depressing, so I’ve found a training silver lining: Avoiding getting clipped forces me to rotate fully on my non-breathing side and thus not wing-out my right arm on recovery as well as keep my head down for a stroke or two off the walls!


When Swimmers Collide

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