So now I get asked which sport I like better. And the answer is, duh, the one I’m naturally good at. But once that’s established, people move on to the question, “What’s the biggest difference between the two?” Besides the water thing, there are plenty of differences, I say. Track and cross-country meets take way less time than swim meets -- fewer events and they go faster. For that matter, so do practices: Running is way more efficient at destroying the human body. And when you run, you can get filthy dirty in a supremely satisfying way. I have never seen anyone leave a pool caked with mud [speaking of caked with mud: My alma mater team, Villanova, won its 8th women’s NCAA cross-country title last Monday! Go, Wildkittens!]
But the biggest difference has to be the people that each sport attracts. See, with running, you’re lucky to get one genuine character per team. You know, a real nut job who’s only allowed to talk to the media with heavy adult supervision. Usually it’s a pole vaulter who’s missed the mat a few times [that’s not so much a metaphor as a medical fact].
But other than your one token character, a track team runs heavy [OK, that is a pun] on the side of serious intensity. I had this one teammate – one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet when she wasn’t kicking your butt in races. One semester I sat next to Joanne in a class. She would press her pen down so hard taking notes that a notebook page filled with her writing would curl up and away from the pages beneath it. I once tried duplicating the amount of pressure it took to make that happen, but couldn’t. Joanne could hide the intensity in everyday conversation, but not when she was taking notes.
I’ve met a lot of people like Joanne in track. In swimming, not so much.
With swimming, at least 25 percent of any team is visiting from another planet. And that’s a conservative estimate. I honestly don’t know why this is. I’ve hypothesized it has something to do with gravity. Running is completely beholden to the effects of gravity and it just beats the snot, poop and fun out of you. With swimming, though, you create this illusion that you’re defying gravity because you’re horizontal all the time, so maybe that loosens up the screws. Or maybe it’s just the chemicals in the water killing brain cells. I really don’t know.
As for which type I prefer to be around, well, isn’t that obvious? I mean, you don’t see me married to a runner, do you?