Zafran: Can confirm, sports are hard

March 28, 2022, 11:12 p.m.

I wasn’t swimming. I was drowning.

On Sunday morning, idiocracy possessed me once again as I attempted a sprint triathlon with no preparation. 16 down-and-backs in the pool didn’t seem all that bad before I started. After the first lap, however, I was surprised by how exhausted I felt. The second one made me think that something was wrong. And after the third one, I didn’t even think anything was wrong, because fatigue had driven me to the point where I could not think at all.

While my misery was self-inflicted, just know that the idea behind this all transpired during a Wilbur dining-hall dinner the night before — so can you really blame me?

I pride myself on my efforts to remain in relatively decent shape. But after 13 more laps of what was supposed to be freestyle but instead looked more like waddling as I struggled to remain afloat, all of my pride was thrown out the window. It didn’t help that I had a 12.4-mile bike ride and a 5k run ahead.

After exiting the pool in a time that was much longer — and I mean much longer — than anticipated, I came to learn two things:

  1. College has put me out of shape. I need to stop trying to maximize bang-for-buck with my meal swipes and just eat an appropriately-sized meal.
  2. Swimming is hard. While I won’t share how long it took me to complete an 800-meter swim, it was certainly longer than the swim and dive team’s effort in the 800 relay during the NCAA championships on the weekend.

I gained a whole lot of respect for the swimming and diving team. The work they put in behind the scenes is underappreciated. It may be understood, but it is certainly not appreciated enough.

The same can be said about many sports on campus. I tried playing squash for the first time on Friday morning. Sitting in a 32’x21’ court playing what felt like wall ball with a racket seemed juvenile at first. But as I stood hunched over, huffing and puffing after half of one game, I once again had a newfound respect for the sport.

Although my endeavors with tennis on Saturday morning did not leave me as physically drained as swimming and squash, it did leave me equally mentally defeated. My friend who, respectfully, is not a Stanford-level athlete, whooped my ass. It made me wonder just how humiliating it would be to step onto the court with a Stanford player.

Thinking back to the many days playing beach volleyball in the fall, my intramural team’s record in the standings would indicate that the sport is harder than it seems.

While I knew swimming was hard, along with the likes of squash, tennis, beach volleyball and numerous other sports, it’s not often that I’m reminded of it. And frankly, it’s because a sport like swimming simply doesn’t get enough attention.

Stanford swimmers are world-class athletes. Hell, the team has two Olympians in redshirt freshman Andrei Minakov and freshman Ron Polonsky. They are among the best at their craft — yet we don’t hear or see about them nearly enough.

But who’s fault is it? I look at myself; I look at the media. The media, by nature, seeks as much revenue and as many clicks and views as possible, so sports like football and basketball dominate the coverage. But, it’s at the expense of other sports.

I am by no means a saint in this regard. I dedicate most of my time to the basketball teams here. And as a diehard hoops fan, watching the women’s basketball team advance to the Final Four was incredible. But it also served as a reminder that other sports like swimming don’t get the air time nor that extra article or feature. And worst of all, they don’t get the respect they deserve.

Swimming is hard. Squash is hard. All of these sports are hard. The athletes here dedicate their lives to performing, and perform they do — at the highest level!

While I wish it were easy for media outlets to cover these underrepresented sports, the money dictates otherwise. The popularity dictates otherwise. And while we can’t change that, at least in this very moment, what we can do is make sure that we uphold the respect that these sports and their athletes deserve.

At the end of the day, what each and every team on this campus does is incredible. We’re talking world-class. The least we can do is appreciate it.

Zach Zafran was the Vol. 262 managing editor for the sports section. Now a senior staff writer, he has previous experience reporting and writing with SFGATE. You can find Zach around campus wearing swim trunks no matter the weather. Follow him on Twitter at @ZachZafran and contact him at sports 'at'

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