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You need some deep mental work for swimming – a swimmer’s story in Iron Swim Budapest, who got from swimming lessons to masters competitions or even further

Katalin Papp works as a speech therapist, runs a dance school and takes part in organizing the local running club. Meanwhile her dancers claim much success, she is planning to run around Lake Balaton with her running mates for the third time. She lives in Ócsa, a small town close to Budapest, where her achievements are much appreciated. She was given the Award for Sport of Ócsa and the Award for Youths of Ócsa. She relentlessly works for others, but recently she started a new adventure focusing on herself.  

‘I have been doing sport and dancing for a very long time. In 2007 I claimed world championships title in hip-hop category in Florida and I collected several gold medals in European championships. But due to dancing my spine was not in the best condition and I was advised to swim. First, I started in a small swimming pool, and since I liked it, I decided to find a place, where I could improve and step forward. I came here and started in the Learn to Swim program last February. I chose a teacher, I think the best one, and I had a go at it.

One of my diplomas is related to physical education, so I could swim a bit from those years, but I came here as a hobby swimmer and I had to learn basics again, kicks, strokes, breathing. I could not imagine for example how to swim 400 m in freestyle. When I tried to swim longer distance, I always did it in breaststroke, but my style was not even perfect. With my teacher Daniel Gogolák, we reset all these things.

I live in the country, come here from relatively far. A practice means 100 km per day for me. At the beginning I came once a week, and then morning lessons were introduced, so I could come more frequently, 4 times a week by the end. In the morning sessions I saw the masters and the sport group training, I always watched them and started to aspire to swim with them. I monitored how much they swam, what they completed, what level do I have to reach to get to that group, and how I could step up in the ranking.

The goals came one by one. I started because of my waist, then I learnt the right techniques.After that I was aiming to swim with a coach so I came to the masters group. Later I realized there were age group competitions, too. I figured out what times were needed for me to perform well. Last November I gathered confidence and travelled to Hódmezővásárhely fully alone. It happened after only a half year, but I think it was important that I came from this system, the well-built structure and this approach was essential. Since the age does not matter here in regards to the expectations or requirements, there is no exception for anyone to swim less for example. It all drove me to enter the competition. I thought it would be a good adventure. I had never been to Hódmezővásárhely, never participated at a swimming competition. At first, I sat down on the stand and watched what was going on. There was the start, the turns, the meters, I had to go over everything in my mind.

Swimming is totally different from my previous experiences or dancing. Here I work for myself, this is a very personal affair. It happens inside me, a kind of work deep inside is also needed, how to cope with the happenings in a competition, how to get the maximum out of me. There is noone I must adjust or look to as in a team for example. There is only me, I must solve all the tasks. And it has a special sense that through this experience I can get to know myself much better.

What have I learnt about myself? To stretch my limits even further than before and perhaps reach the limit of my physical performance. Although I feel like being persistent, I also got several smacks in my face at practices. I realized what I could not do, what I was not ready for. I had two choices. Accept it and come to the pool on the following day or run away. The latter one was no option. I had to find my strengths and the areas I could improve on. The difference between an adult and a kid learning to swim is that the kids just swim and go forward. Meanwhile the adults build themselves in the processtoo. It is very important for me to remember it when my phone rings at 4.30am to get here by 6.

What am I the most proud of in my swimming? The first one is that I had enough courage to have a go alone and I went to Hódmezővásárhely. And my first bronze medal I claimed there. It was an awesome feeling to hold it in my hand and I said oh my God, I had done it. Then I entered several competitions because I liked competing very much, and I collected many bronze medals. But now, two weeks ago I finally claimed a gold medal. This was again a new experience that I could be the best in something in my age group at that particular moment.

Certainly, it does not mean that I sit back now, I already have new goals. However, I must remind myself to take small steps and not to dream too big. Last year I entered in IM and although my times improved a lot, I must mark the line, what I am capable of. At the moment, I cannot compete with those who have been swimming since their childhood. They have so much experience even if they skipped 10-15 years, because in my opinion the body, the muscles, the brain remember. And I still have to learn it.

If I had to define my dream, I would not say medals or big victories, but to enter and participate at major competitions and live the moment for example at a European Championships. Since masters swimming is ageless, I also have time to achieve it. I sometimes think of times, too, what and how I can improve, but it is very difficult. It’s a bit similar to my work as a therapist. I get a 4-5-year old kid, who I start to work with who does not speak at all and, I do not have any idea about the final outcome, whether the kid can only learn to communicate or can become a good speaker later on. We do not know the end of the improvement curve. What matters only is to do your best every day.

What advice I have for the adults flirting with swimming? Have a go anyway. Set the alarm to wake you up in the morning and get up. You must think in small steps, but everyone should definitely try because swimming is a sport that can add a lot to a healthy lifestyle, to the musculature, lungs, all the internal organs, the heart. It is so complex, it has so much positive impact and furthermore it can provide a good community, a team that is good to belong to. I think it is important for an adult too.

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