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My skin is dry. My hair is half dead. And if you just so happen to lick my arm, the pungent scent of chlorine will fill the room in a matter of seconds. I’m a mediocre swimmer on a high school swim team, but to a certain extent, most swimmers can relate to the problems caused by chlorine.
Chlorine is a chemical element used in hot tubs and swimming pools to rid the water of harmful bacteria that could potentially make us sick. It was used as a chemical weapon in World War I, but I think of it more as a weapon to make the pool water slightly more bearable.
Some pools (I’m looking at you, Torrington YMCA) use a chemical element called Bromine instead of Chlorine. The taste of Bromine is saltier than Chlorine, and it is described to have an “offensive and suffocating odor.” How lovely. Its bacteria-neutralizing properties are not as strong as Chlorine’s, and can be up to 40% more expensive, so frankly, I have no idea why some pools choose to use it.
Woodland’s pool is widely considered to be one of the nicest in the NVL. By nice, I mean that the water isn’t suffocatingly warm and the water tastes relatively okay compared to most. Nevertheless, rising up from the butterfly stroke to take a breath and swallowing half a gallon of chlorinated water is not a walk in the park.
Because Chlorine is a bacteria-killing chemical, it is very potent and can also lead to dry, flaky skin and straw-like hair. For those of us who already have dry skin, Chlorine can destroy both our skin cells and our self-esteem. Jake Stow, a strong swimmer on Woodland’s Boys’ Swim Team, has experienced many difficulties with Chlorine management.
“I have a lot of problems being constantly exposed to Chlorine,” explains Stow. “I always have knots in my hair and it consistently feels dry and dirty.”
In addition, the effects of Chlorine are not left in the pool. This sneaky chemical is absorbed into the body through both inhalation and the skin, and high school level swimmers may be exposed to Chlorine for upwards of three hours each day. If the body is not given enough time to rid Chlorine from its system, there could be toxic levels, which may lead to swimmers developing asthma or other respiratory ailments.
Now, some may ask, “Well, why don’t you just take a shower to get rid of the Chlorine?” But what non-swimmers don’t understand is that the taste, scent, and presence of this parasitic chemical lingers in our bodies for weeks even after the season comes to a close. Julie Hinckley, Senior Swim Captain, is no stranger to this phenomenon.
“I accepted the fact that no matter how many times I wash, I will always smell like Chlorine; it’s like my perfume.” states Hinckley. “At this point, I’ll probably smell it the rest of my life.”
After swim practice every night, I go home, eat dinner, and prepare to take a shower. When I step into the steamy water, the pungent odor of Chlorine fills the entire bathroom, and amusingly enough, I will admit that it actually comforts me. It’s a reminder of the pain that I endured, and a sort of verification that I actually did something productive for two and half hours instead of watching three episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.
Although being a competitive swimmer comes with many struggles (many being related to chemicals and water quality), swimming is a “lifetime sport”, and many athletes are willing to endure a little discomfort and risk of toxification for the sense of serenity that comes with the first dive.