By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

Normally hosted every two years in February, the biennial Valentines Tournament hosted by the LGBTQ+ swimming team, Upstream Amsterdam, was postponed this year to September to ensure that Covid didn’t get in the way of our LOVE for swimming! Get it? *cue drumset*

This year’s Valentine’s Day tournament was held on September 7th-9th, 2022 in the City of Canals, Amsterdam. The event drew in about 100-150 swimmers from LGBTQ+ teams all over western Europe, including Out to Swim London, Spetters Gay Swim Nijmegen, Brussels Gay Sports, Copenhagen Mermates, Gay Swim Amsterdam, Nat Utrecht, and of course representing my own team, SC Janus.

The event kicked off with an opening party on Friday evening, followed by the swim meet on Saturday, including lovely hearts awarded as our medals, a tasty dinner Saturday evening followed by a party and drag show and then concluded with a Sunday brunch and bingo.

Four members of SC Janus attended, Freddy, Jordan, Eduardo and me, and it was our first meet of the fall season toward our team training goals to compete at the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics Championships in London next summer as well as the Gay Games in November 2023.  Our goals for this meet were to have fun, get some competitive experience, establish baseline times and connect with the LGBTQ+ swimming community.

As a team, we swam two relays, the 4×50 medley and the 4×50 free in which we placed first in both. Everybody on the team won at least two medals and several personal best times were achieved. The most important part of these races was to gain experience in competitive swimming, including how to strategize races, perform starts/turns in a competition setting, learn the competition procedures and being able to swim in a high energy atmosphere. The LGBTQ+ swimmers brought the energy as we all cheered each other during our races, celebrating Personal Recordss and reflecting on our own races to improve ourselves.

Despite it being a competition, the great thing about participating in these events is that there are swimmers of all levels, experiences, ages, sexual orientations and gender identities taking part. While there are competitive divisions based on age and gender identity, the heats are seeded by times so that you are physically racing against people whose performance is comparable to your own. This way it helps you push your limits and challenge yourself even further, even if you aren’t competing against them for a medal. The most important things about these kinds of competitions are the focus on having fun, participating and pushing yourself to do your best.

This is where the Gay Games tenants of “participation, inclusion and personal best” really shine. Many people shy away from competing because they are worried, they aren’t good enough. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, it’s about being part of it, pushing yourself to be at your personal best and celebrating our community through our love of swimming. LGBTQ+ sports events like the Valentines Tournament are amazing for encouraging people to take up a sport, exercise and be physically active. It’s about joining a greater community where one can find purpose, meet friends, set goals and express yourself as an LGBTQ+ person through sport. We have fun, we work hard, and we come together to celebrate ourselves and each other.

For myself and my SC Janus teammates, we definitely accomplished those goals and more at the Valentines Tournament and we are excited for the next events coming up in the next few months. We are looking forward to seeing you there!

Photo Credit: Dirk Smith and Upstream Amsterdam