Chemical warfare: boys’ swimming discusses physical side effects of swimming

“Swimming kind of takes over your life,” junior Lucas Harder said.
Averaging over 25 hours of practice weekly, Harder and juniors Matt Laboe and Connor Lamb agree that the greatest challenge of Central’s boys’ swim and dive team is the immense time commitment.
Along with daily afternoon practices, swimmers attend four morning practices, three weight-lifting sessions and Saturday practice each week. The intensive schedule creates challenges both physical and mental for swimmers to overcome.
After spending excessive hours in the pool, Lamb often feels “drained from a very, very long day and the energy expended doing hard workouts,” and describes the season as “one constant grind until the end of the year.”
Due to this lack of energy, Harder often spends his Saturday nights “throwing in a movie and falling asleep at 7:30.”
“You’ve got to go into the swim season with high grades because they’ll suffer a little bit,” said Lamb. “When you come home [from practice], you don’t go, ‘Yeah! Homework!’ It gets pretty hard, but you learn to use your time well during school and lunch.”
However, the extensive time Central swimmers spend in the pool can also cause a host of health issues like bleached hair and dry skin. Chlorine is used in pools to kill bacteria and disinfect, but the chemical can do more harm than good.
A chlorine leakage issue during the 2011-2012 swim season caused significant problems for the swimmers, but most were fixed for this year, Lamb said.
Excessive exposure to chlorine led Harder to be diagnosed with chlorine poisoning, causing “literally every hair to fall off.”
But usually, the effect of chlorine is less severe and most apparent in the lightening of hair. Laboe entered the season with fairly dark brown hair, but now sports wispy, blonde hair.
According to Harder, the thinning and disintegration of hair is also an issue.
“If I ever run a comb through my hair, [my comb] looks like when you brush your pet and all the hair comes out,” Harder said.
Although Lamb noticed significantly lighter shades of hair about a month into season, he says it’s hard to tell when most swimmers have markedly lighter hair.
“The destruction of our hair is not a destination, it’s a journey,” said Harder. “Throughout the swim season, it just gets worse and worse.”
Because of the distinct color and texture, “swim hair” is noticeable to non-swimmers.
“Your hair is kind of your identity as a swimmer,” Laboe said.
Harder feels that having unkempt “swim hair” can make others assume he is not “clean-cut and more like a goon.”
Despite having trademark “swim hair,” Lamb does not believe his appearance affects the way people think of and treat him.
“Hundreds of times I get, ‘Did you dye your hair?’” said Lamb. “It’s like, ‘I dyed my hair ugly blonde…’ It’s a conversation starter sometimes, but I don’t think people judge you that hard for having lighter hair.”
Severely dry skin is another common side effect of exposure to chlorinated water. According to Laboe, the swimmers apply tremendous amounts of lotion after practice.
While dry skin can be treated, Laboe feels that limited air circulation in the pool area inhibits breathing, especially during strenuous workouts.
“The worst part of the chlorine is that it [feels] like you [are] a smoker,” Laboe said.
Harder adds that “if the fans aren’t on or a door isn’t open, the air gets hot and heavy and every deep breath just [makes it] worse.”
As a result of stuffy air conditions, Harder describes hearing “an orchestra of coughs” during tough sets.
But despite the physical and mental challenges, the swimmers are motivated to practice hard due to a commitment to improvement and faith in the team.
Harder believes that the team is a “brotherhood,” and that no one complains about hard workouts, realizing that “everyone else in the pool [goes] through the same thing.”
“The way our program is set up, we don’t wonder whether we’re going to get better at the end of the year, we know we’re going to,” said Lamb. “I’d much rather struggle through and get better than quit now. You have to know that in the end, it will work out.”