By Aimee Mittermayer
I was excessively competitive when I was younger; I would have to beat the boy walking next to me whilst walking to the classroom door. In my mind, it was a very serious foot race and the reward was simply being ahead of him. My competitive nature was put to good use both on the field and in the swimming pool. Sport and movement have been my outlet since I can remember my legs doing anything other than crawling, and although my idea of sport and fitness, and what it entails, has developed and adapted since becoming a young adult, I will always try to beat any boy to the door.
Sport allowed me to focus my competitive energy within greater structured environments and in a way that was more beneficial. From the ripe age of 8, I participated in serious swimming galas. Upon reflection, the need to win was intense in the early stages of my life. My blood especially boiled whenever boys were involved. I swam harder than my normal maximum whenever I was placed next to a boy on the starting block. My demeanour was more aggressive, my focus was heightened and my smugness was obvious whenever I won, because I always knew it was his expectation to win; that it was because I was a girl that the outcome of the race was already decided. I loved squashing those expectations. I loved changing the outcome and I especially enjoyed the perplexed look on his face after the race. During swimming practice, we were grouped into who were the stronger and weaker swimmers. In primary school, I was put into a group mainly consisting of boys and I thrived off the competitive environment. I got a huge kick out of beating my male teammates.
Swimming against very talented boys later shifted to swimming against very talented girls who were all my age and apparently had the same desire to win as I did. Competition was stiff and seconds usually sat between the winner and the last swimmer to make it to the edge of the pool. Neither teammates nor family could talk to me shortly before any race because of the knot of nerves embedded in my stomach. The only thoughts occupying my mind were how fast the other girls were and how fast I was in comparison. I would only snap out of this trance once I had thrown myself off the starting block into the pool. It was the surge of adrenaline, realising I was gliding ahead of the girl beside me and the furious slap of my hand hitting the wall that made all the nerves worth it. It was after each race; leaning on the lane ropes, out of breath but looking up at impressed smiles from my coach, teammates and parents that fuelled my dedication toward the sport. Many athletes would agree that this particular feeling is addictive and a feeling that people try to recreate, which is why I continued to launch myself into the water over and over again.
Now, as a young adult, sport has landed under the importance of wellness. Since primary school my body, its capabilities and my relationship with my body have gone through many transitions – some negative and some positive – but it has always been through movement and physical activity that I have regained both mental and physical strength. I have gone through many sport- and fitness-related phases, including field hockey, athletics, gym, crossfit, skipping, calisthenics workouts and even palates. But, no matter the type of physical exercise, when I’m red faced and sweat-drenched, that is when I feel my most capable and most beautiful.
The perspective of women within the sporting world often comes with focus on the female form. Swimming is a sport where it’s difficult to hide the nooks and crannies of one’s body. In the peak of my fitness, I was lean, muscular and had a very different physique to other girls, even those on my swimming team. I had veins some boys didn’t have, accompanied by thighs that seemed to confuse them. Comments made by boys about my body, whether the intent was positive or negative, fuelled my desire to win every race against any male opponent. Winning was showing them that my body was my tool and not something that should inspire unsolicited opinions or comments. I felt as if I was taking the focus off of my body and forcing it onto my unexpected capabilities.
It is my past swimming experience which developed my appreciation for the human body, what it can do and how best to take care of it. I hope everyone learns to recognise the functionality of their bodies, and realise that that, in itself, is beautiful. I want women, in particular, to feel empowered enough to confidently lunge for that door whenever there’s a move for it to be opened for you; you are very capable of getting there first, and there is nothing wrong with a little healthy competition between equals.