Race Day -- Why your every stroke matters.
If I am being very honest with y’all, I did not have the best attitude about this weekend’s intersquad meet -- Yes, I have been dreaming for a race day for weeks now, but this just didn’t resonate with me as the kind of meet I wanted for our kids. I was bitter about my kid missing out on his last age-group long course season; I was annoyed by the perpetual cycle of bad news and rising numbers. I know, I know, those are all spoiled-brat, first world problems and don’t even qualify as worthy of comparison to what is happening in the world. But I think that setting the stage and being vulnerable about my nasty attitude may help, especially in light of what I would like to share today.
Somewhere between the “I am so over this” and the “this isn’t even a real meet”, I came to the realization that 1) nobody cared and 2) it was. I also started thinking of how hard our coaches have worked, for weeks, to get our kids back in the water and to get them to race again. So, I begrudgingly logged on to On Deck, got over my rotten mood, and signed the kid up -- If anything, I told myself, it’s the right thing to do to support our coaches. They are going out of their way to make this happen. As the week is progressing, I am slowly (but surely) trying to get the boy excited about the opportunity as well. Sentences like “yes, the times only count up to champs, but don’t you want to get more champs cuts anyways?” and “take this as an opportunity to get some swims out of the way” have been uttered here and there over the past couple of days. With time, I am maybe also getting excited myself, thinking that while things aren’t ideal, they are getting better. News of treatment breakthroughs coming out of England and new development in preventive measures are emerging; some states are making decisions about their sports highschool seasons; others are starting to hold outdoor events like open-water competitions and triathlons -- all signs that we may be able to get back to it soon. And then, it hit me…..that clinic I took my swimmer to a couple of years ago, that motivational speech delivered by olympian Elisabeth Beisel, that’s what we need to focus on right now. So, here it is.
Elisabeth Beisel was competing in the Olympics trials. It would have been her third time going to the Olympics and she shared with the kids that she wasn’t particularly confident in her ability to make the team. She needed to finish either first or second in the 400IM to guarantee herself a trip to Rio and she didn’t think she had it in her. However, thanks to her training, her team and her coaches, she got in the water and started swimming. About halfway through the race, she realized that she would not be able to finish 1st or 2nd, Heck, she was struggling for fourth place and started to feel a bit defeated about the whole thing. But she kept pushing. She soon remembered that she just couldn’t settle. That just wasn’t in her to do so; it just wasn’t what her coaches had trained her to do. So, if she couldn’t finish 2nd, she surely wasn’t going to take 4th place. At that moment, she gave it all she had, stroke after stroke, breath after breath, kick after kick. She gained some ground. Once she secured herself that third place, she didn’t quit. If she could get third, maybe, just maybe, she may get 2nd. So again, pushing hard, through the pain and the exhaustion, she swam, she raced. In the end, she was out-touched, and her dream of finishing in the top two and going to Rio was crushed…..or was it? In a crazy turn of events, the second place winner was disqualified, leaving Elisabeth in disbelief. Yep, that DQ meant one thing and one thing only: she had made the team!
Clearly, our stakes this weekend are not as high -- but, the principle applies and I think that this may just be the perfect time for our kids to refocus on racing right. Just like I needed a bit of attitude adjustment about the whole meet thing, this event may be the very best opportunity for our swimmers to realize that every swim matters; that every stroke matters; that every breath matters; that every kick matters. If they can make one cut, one best time, one amazing personal record, that’s one less obstacle in their way to get to the next milestone. We just don’t know what will happen next week or next month and we need to encourage them to go for it this week -- get that time under your belt, swimmers; that’ll be one less thing you will have to focus on in the next round. If Elisabeth had settled, she wouldn’t have made it to the next race; if she had accepted her lot, she would not have gone to Rio. We need to encourage those boys and girls; tell them the story of Elisabeth, help them understand the importance of pushing through and working until they touch that wall. They may not get a cut, but maybe they will; they may not shave some time off their personal best, but maybe they will. No matter what happens, however, if they push, they WILL know that there wasn’t anything else they could have given. That in itself may be the reward they need this weekend.
I will also leave you with this thought: our coaches could have just as well enjoyed their Saturday, closed up shop early and gone about their business this weekend. Instead, they are working extra hard all week to give us this opportunity. The registration, the heat sheets, the organizing a competition around the million guidelines; they are pouring themselves into this Saturday's races. This isn’t what we all hoped for. We will watch our kids race from the parking lot, streaming virtually. We won’t get to smell the chlorine in the air and hear the cheers of other parents next to us. But if there is anything we have emphasized in these blogs and over the past few weeks it is that WE ARE A TEAM -- dispersed as we may be right now, separated by locations, practice groups and a gazillion public health mandates, we still are #SMACStrong and this weekend, let’s remember that #SMACattackisinthebuilding! Got get’em boys and girls!