Andddd it’s time once again to spend the weekend at Northeast Conference Championships in Nassau County, New York. Of all the meets of the entire season, this one is by far the hardest. My involvement in our team here at Sacred Heart has lowered tremendously, from competing athlete and teammate who attends every practice and event, to teammate or “team manager” who doesn’t get in the pool at all, attends practice twice a week
Still being able to travel with the team is a blessing – I have always loved the sport and am grateful I am able to be around it, but each time I go, it just gets harder. It’s nearly impossible to sit on the sidelines and watch people do what you want to do so badly. Dual meets only last a few hours, 5 at most, and a few hours of a travelling. I can deal with that.
Last year, I travelled to our conference meet 2 weeks post shoulder surgery and it was harder than I thought it would be. I wanted to be in that pool so badly and feel that rush again. I wanted to have success with my teammates and work hard for them. I wanted to be one of the reasons that we were successful, but I wasn’t able to at that time.
When I was in 8th grade, I swam a 59.61 in the 100 butterfly, which was .16 tenths of a second from qualifying for YMCA National Championships. It was a huge accomplishment for me, and it became my only focus in the next season. I focused all of my energy in the pool to make this goal. I wanted it so badly. The more I wanted it, the more I let my mind get in the way. I was having panic attacks behind the blocks meet after meet, coming up short every time. This went on for 5 years.
My college coach took a chance on me because he believed that he could bring me back to the swimmer that I was before. I made a pact with myself that my goal for the next 4 years was to beat that 100 butterfly time. It didn’t matter when or how, I just wanted it so badly. I needed to prove to myself that I could overcome that fear and be the swimmer I really was behind all of the mental barriers. I wanted to train hard, win races, and score for my team, but more than anything, I needed to prove it to myself, and there was only one way to do that.
My freshman year, conference championships was one of the best memories I’ve made in my life. I swam lifetime bests in each event, but there was one that meant everything. I looked up at the clock after my 100 butterfly and literally started crying. I dropped about a tenth and a half from my 8th grade time, but it didn’t matter. I was finally back.
That was easily the best feeling in the world. It was the best race in my 12-year swimming career. I had worked so hard to become the athlete that I was before, and I was finally confident enough in myself and had gotten to a place where I could deal with my anxiety in a productive way. That was all I had ever wanted, and all I had ever needed.
I wanted so badly to be back in the pool for NEC’s last year. The only thing that made it better was that I was able to sit on the sides with the mindset that I would be able to compete next year.
This weekend is going to be different. Last year’s seizure happened about a month after conference championships. It was completely out of nowhere and is the reason that the doctors decided it isn’t safe for me to swim anymore.
The desire to swim at this meet hasn’t gone away. I want so badly to get in the pool and prove again that I’m that athlete at heart. The muscle, talent, and training has gone away, but the love for the sport hasn’t. It’s going to be tough to sit on the sidelines this weekend, knowing that I can’t get back in, and I won’t be able to for the rest of my time on the team.
I’m trying to figure out the best way to go about this, but I guess it’s really simple: use it as motivation. Use it as motivation to cheer louder. Remember the feeling of exhilaration of being there and swimming fast. Hope that the feeling continues this weekend.
If you lost something you love, look back at the memories that you made when you still had it. Be grateful for the time that you spent and the joy it brought to you. You were and are lucky. Not everyone gets to experience that passion.