12 Stages of a Hero’s (Swimmer’s) Journey


Courtesy: Karl Hamouche

1. Status Quo
There you are, just a regular kid… a land dweller. You probably did “team sports” and things with a ball. The only time you ever hit the water was at the Rec or for a shower. This is your world, the ordinary world and you have never known any different.

2. Call to Adventure
You ask your friend to come over and stay the night to play video games, but they reply with “Can’t, I got swim practice.” They’ve said that before, but this time it’s different because they follow up with “Wanna join me at practice?”

3. Refusal of the Call
Practice? At six in the morning? ON A SATURDAY!? Yeah right… maybe next time. I like my sleep, my time, and my land activities. Why would I ever give that up to jump into freezing water two hours before the sun comes up and force myself to hold my breath constantly while I use every muscle in my body… no thanks.

4. Meeting the Mentor
For some reason PE class is at the pool and you have to go back and forth… back and forth. Boring, but easy enough. After class on the way to the locker the teacher, who is also the swim team coach, stops you and says “You have some good feel for the water (whatever that means) and a lot of potential. If you want that potential to mean something you need a teacher… a team. Practice, tomorrow, be there.”

5. Crossing the Threshold
You never refuse a dare or a challenge, so you are here at the pool for your first practice. Everyone seems to have a lot of stuff with them: goggles, caps, fins… You didn’t bring any of that. But the team hands you what you need, teaches you how to read a clock and swim in a circle. And for the first time you jump into the pool as a swimmer, into the special world of clocks and water.

6. Trials
At first, you were at the end of the lane behind all the other swimmers. But you didn’t quit because every day you got better (and the friends weren’t so bad either). Soon, you were leading your lane. Soon after you were leading your heat. And after a season of training, racing and making friends and enemies… the time had come to face your biggest challenge.

7. The Approach
The big meet was just a few weeks away and taper had begun. Throughout the season you had never felt so tired and hungry so constantly. But now that the resting had begun, you can feel your body and mind get sharper… it’s time to race!

8. The Ordeal
Four days of prelims and finals, what kind of swim meet is this!? It is the most grueling event you have ever done, but your body is staying strong and performing beyond your expectations. The coach, your team and your self are beyond impressed with the results and everyone is killing it!

9. The Reward
After the meet, you discover this was just a stepping stone swim meet and that you actually made cut times for the next level! On top of that, you get some mail from college programs around the country asking you to swim for them. Coach is proud and says “I saw all this from the beginning of course.”

10. The Return
You return to the pool, except this time it’s a new team and a new season. By now, the season is familiar to you: Train, taper, race, win. But this season is different. Injury plagues you, school is overwhelming and even though you did everything right and tried your best, the end of the season results in you losing. Not only losing, but you don’t even go a best time!

11. Resurrection
You never quit though, you’ve learned that much from the water. You slug out a few more years training, a couple best times here and there, but for the most part your swimming career is over and it’s time to become a swammer, to return to the ordinary world of land dwellers.

12. Resolution
Years later you have a successful career based on the lessons you learned from the pool: dedication, toughness, even ingenuity. All of a sudden, your local club has a vacancy and they need a coach. They need you and your experience.

Adapted from Christopher Vogler’s 12 stages of a Hero’s Journey who adapted it from Joseph Campbell’s 17 stages who wrote about it in The Hero with a Thousand Faces which is a theory about how all mythology and hero’s journeys are based on this sequence, called the Monomyth… aka the story of humans.

About Karl Hamouche
Karl Hamouche is Founder of Swim Smart, co-inventor of the Squeezline, author of The Biology of Swimming, coach with Ames Cyclone Aquatics Club and recent graduate from medical school at the University of Iowa.

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