VICE: Andrew W.K. on Working Out

Andrew W.K. on Working Out | VICE

I was never very into sports, but from early on—age seven all the way through high school—I swam competitively. I did this despite the fact that I didn’t enjoy it all that much. In fact, initially, it felt like torture.

I have vivid memories of waking up when it was still dark outside and being driven to the pool for morning practice. An instant physical and mental dread would set in as soon as my alarm went off. It took everything I had to muster the willpower to slink out of bed. I was buried under a tremendous sense of foreboding, unable to find relief or think about anything but the wretched and frigid task at hand.

I’d get in my mother’s car, sulking, and ease the passenger seat as far back as it would go while she drove. I stewed in my resentment, half trying to sleep, half trying to slow time down in a foolish and useless attempt to keep the icy solitude of that chlorinated water at bay for as long as possible. This ride was especially bad during the school year, when my general melancholic state would edge up to full-on depression, knowing that after I finished this brutal early morning practice I had an entire day of school and then another practice after.

Even during practice, a cloud loomed. I’d dive into the cold, cold water and begin the monotonous back and forth from one end to the other, muscles aching, lungs burning. The strange muted sounds of underwater exhaustion intensified my morbid thoughts. Swim practices typically lasted four hours total, every day. Each second felt like a punishment.

But when it was over—inevitably, magically—I’d feel great. Practice pushed me to my physical and emotional limits. And though I didn’t know it was happening then, it changed me in ways that were undeniably profound and lasting. It taught me the importance of pushing through something unpleasant in order to let it shape you for the better, and that doing so would make you stronger in ways both observable and immeasurable.

My time in the water also taught me the value of exercise and how it could drastically improve my mood, my mind, and my outlook. As much as my mom pushed and encouraged me to swim, she didn’t demand it. I could’ve quit at any point if I really wanted to. And I didn’t. Some part of my spirit understood this was good for me. It was building needed and desired character—by submitting to this unpleasant routine I wanted little part of, and coming out the other end, I blossomed.