Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Me & My Screw

If there was a lesson to be learned over and over again, mine would be to appreciate what you have when you have it.

Yesterday, I went in for a scheduled surgery to have a screw removed from my knee that previously held in a metal rod through my femur but now only acted as a nuisance. Due to the myriad of surgeries I have had over my thirty years, I knew that this one, although easy like pie, came with great consequences.

For the first time in my life, I was nervous about the surgery and it was extremely clear to me that it was because I felt like I had a lot on the line in terms of my swimming. As silly and nonsensical as it sounds, before yesterday I had never really felt like my interaction with surgery mattered much.

However minor the surgery, I have never been known to be the luckiest of gals, so I prepared by attempting to dream up several worst-case scenarios. Good thing.

I was in the operating room for well over an hour with the equal parts burly and lovely surgeon yanking away at the screw in my knee. Without any anesthesia, I could make out very obvious pulling and pressure sensations from my knee that echoed up my whole leg. I tried not to focus on it because it was quite uncomfortable.

Finally, after several minutes of silence from the nursing crowd around, the surgeon broke the lack of sound with a small, "I'm sorry." I was prepared for that.

The screw had become cold-welded to the rod and there was no way of getting it out. My only option is to go in and have a fairly significant surgery to file down the protruding part of the screw at a later date. No thank you.

I suppose that there is always a lesson to be learned in every adventure. Mine? Several.

I have learned, yet again, how much this whole swimming thing means to me. I have learned that there are far worse things than stuck knee screws. I have learned that my body is still quite resilient, no matter the trauma its endured in the past. I have learned that, even though I will be physically out of the pool for a week for no good reason, I still have plenty of mental work to do surrounding my swimming.

So after all has been said and done, I have a surgical incision keeping me from the water and a screw that I wanted out of my body and out of my life. C'est la vie.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Subtle World Ranks

One of the things I have been told about the likelihood of being a part of the Paralympic team is the utter necessity of joining the world ranks, something that I have sort of pushed aside due to fear... until now.

Although they are both double-digits, I am now officially ranking in both my 50 backstroke and my 200 freestyle events. This is an exciting step for me and feels quite strange. Being the down-player that I am, I keep telling myself that it is simply because there aren't many people competing in my classification right now; however, the newer, more confident part of me shushes those words by reassuring the validity of it all. Thank you newer, more confident synapse.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

So Where Do I Go From Here?

It's been over a week now and I've finally allowed my brain to settle just enough to smile at my recent meet accomplishments and gaze into the future of what's to come. I have made more of an effort than I have at anything before to wade in the waters of pride and acknowledgment of this path and its overwhelming purpose for my soul.

In the past few months that I have created this devotion to swimming I have gained a sense of self-confidence that has been hiding for some time. I am now able to recognize things within myself that I would once push aside and downplay in order to keep a modest and monotone existence of safety and comfort.

So where do I go from here?

I know that it will continue to be a long haul travelling through this experience, but I know as well that the rewards are endless. The next meet that I will prepare for is the Can/Am Para Swim Meet in Minneapolis in April. This meet is quite similar to the meet I just competed in, although the stakes have been raised quite a bit. From what I have been told, this spring meet is actually considered to be a qualifying meet for two additional, more elite events: the Pan/Am Para Swim Meet and the Pan/Pacific Para Swim Meet occurring later next fall.

Both of these meet invitations are based solely upon world rankings and statuses. I will have to really step it up several large notches to even have hopes of getting to either one of these competitions.

Today I met with the Paralympic Resident Team Coach down in Colorado Springs. He told me that I am at a good spot in the sense that there really isn't much competition in my classification in the States right now; however, the Paralympic team is based upon current world rankings, which is something that I will have to really consider as a challenge as of yet. I will have to shave off a lot of time and improve upon my technique immensely to even entertain the thoughts of ranking among the current athletes in my classification worldwide.

With that all said, I am excited. I am not scared, I am not deterred, I am not wavering, and I am not leaving without a fight.

I will continue to work on my conditioning and training both in and out of the pool. I will increase my weightlifting and stretching. I will send videos of my strokes to the Paralympic Resident coach to critique my progress. I will get enough sleep. I will fuel my body with the best possible foods and nutrients. I will foster my self-confidence in every facet that I can.

It's going to be a lot of work, but I believe in this more than anyone would even understand.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lost & Found

And here I am again sitting on a plane; although this time I am feeling much different than I was only a few days ago now traveling against the jet stream.

The difference lies in the events that have taken place in such a short period of time, but because of their vast weight seem to have occurred simultaneously in another lifetime as well. I am headed back to my life as a school teacher and colleague. I am headed back to my life as a daughter and a friend. I am headed back to my life of credit card payments and refinancing papers. More notably, I am moving further away from the identity that I created this weekend: a true competitive swimmer.

This identity has always been a part of me, but to what extent? I have always seen myself as a competitive swimmer, choosing chlorine over snow-topped mountains and goggles over sneakers. But something this weekend magnified that identity. Something this weekend raged through me like never before in any other competitive manner. Something within me came alive.

Going into the meet, I was most nervous about my nerves. I was most fearful of the point at which I begin racing and thus panic because my brain senses my adrenaline and runs to hide from it rather than use it. With my brain hiding, I cannot do anything with that crucial competition energy but let it vanish into some sort of negative-pressure vacuum in my soul. It happened over and over again throughout my last competition and I was really doubtful that I knew how to properly care for that sort of nervousness.

The human brain is such a powerful tool, provided that there is that such understanding.

The first day of competition, I had summoned my brain to control that adrenaline surge so much that it didn’t exist at all. Vacuumed up and swept under a rug for all I knew. This wasn’t what I wanted and I wasn’t going to let that happen again.

Competition is so much more far-reaching than simply the sport itself. I have spent so many months focusing on my physical preparation, that I wasn’t totally sure what to do with the rest of my preparations. So, I was left to tweak things here and there until they felt just right. By Saturday morning, I could call on that adrenaline and send it to the tips of my fingers where I needed it most. I was so proud to be able to take hold of that raw power and make it my own; which is sort of silly really, seeing as it was created by me in the first place.

Throughout my races I encouraged my brain to find the elite athlete inside of me, by creating small accomplishments and moments of pride that only I could recognize. Things like: being the first swimmer in the pool for every single warm-up session, creating a stretching routine that even my direct competitors noticeably mimicked, being a swimmer that a younger swimmer could look up to, willing myself to hold off an impending head cold (which arrived only moments after my last race ended), and even being mistaken for one of the US Resident Team members. These small, yet catalytic moments created an energy that I could finally work with.

When all was said and done, I achieved 3 personal best times and won 4 of my 7 events. More importantly, I learned a lot about myself as a competitor and I tried my best to absorb what I could from those around me. I connected with so many wonderful and admirable people. I did my best to take in as many sights and sounds as I could simply just to help encapsulate everything I could into memories to relive whenever I desired.

As I left Toronto today, and even as I left the pool last night, I couldn’t help but feel this overwhelming sense of loss. Almost like I had forgotten something. Almost like I didn’t want to go. Almost like an empty stomach of something left undone.

I realize now that I did leave something at the pool and I did forget something and I didn’t want to go and I did leave something undone.

Once you put your heart into something with so much veracity and velocity, it is impossible not to leave a little bit of yourself there when you go. I entered the pool raw and unknowing, but when I left I had reached a confidence and trust within myself that couldn’t go unnoticed and couldn’t help but electrify from my every molecule. From moments of the purest mental anguish fighting in unison with the astonishment of my effort, my soul was put to the finest of tests this weekend. How could I even imagine NOT leaving a part of me there?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Compliments From A Twelve-- No, Thirteen-- Year Old

Yesterday is what it's all about. Yesterday I FELT like an athlete.

The previous night I went to bed with a "fake it 'til you make it" sort of attitude. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to TRY again. Personal goals can often be simple, controllable goals that help out the situation and the underlining true goals that persist. This controllable goal of mine for this whole meet has been to be the first person in at warm-ups.

So far, so good. I have beat out the French, the Belgians, the Mexicans, the French Canadians, all those other Canadians, the Ukrainian guy, the South Koreans, the Brazilians, and all of the US competitors. This is a minute, yet important goal of mine.

Yesterday brought, not only some of my fastest swims ever, but some connections with those around me. I spoke with some of the Paralympic Resident Team members about their lives. One of the spunkiest women on the team is from Florida and is struggling to find her place in Colorado Springs, just experienced her first mountain plunge and loved it. She is feeling better about Colorado now. Another girl, only just thirteen yesterday was so lively and reminded me without even trying why I wanted to be there. She told me that I was a great swimmer several times and that she thought that I was only 20 (which was also fantastic to hear!) and that she "knew" I was going to win and that I had big muscles. SHE was exactly the catalyst I needed to help me actually believing that I AM the athlete that I was trying to fake.

A combination of those around me and the willingness to try led me to shaving off immense time in my 100 backstroke and actually being able to feel like I was racing. Truly, I haven't felt that kind of race since I was in high school, which, contrary to my thirteen year old friend's belief, was a long time ago.

It's been a real struggle to train my brain for this event. But now I am feeling like all that I needed to do was to let go a little bit and listen to the world around me. I feel so much better than I did before, and this lesson was well worth the ticket to Toronto.

Let's see what today might bring.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lucky To Be Here

The dreaded blog post. I have been dreading writing today but at the same time really looking forward to it because I know that it will help me figure some things out.

This morning was the start to my first international swim meet. I swam the very first heat of the very first event, my favorite event, I think, the 200 backstroke. I bombed. I added about 10 seconds onto my time from my meet in Santa Clara. I immediately went into shock....

What did I do wrong? Did I not train enough? Am I not fast enough? Am I not fit enough? Did I not prepare enough? I couldn't say! So I did the only thing I could think of: got back in the pool.

I swam and swam and swam in the cool-down pool in hopes of finding an answer. I imagined being a fish that catches water within its gills, the way my epiphany would catch within me. No such luck. I composed myself again and began focusing on my final event for the day, the 100 breaststroke.

As I raced, I tried so hard to not let negative notions find their way to my stroke. I fought off voices in my head and tremors in my heart. I finished, fairly satisfied with my fight, only to look up to the time board to see that I had added an additional 18 seconds to my Santa Clara time!! What was going on here??

Shake it off, shake it off. We left and went to lunch and I tried to focus only on the fact that making it into Finals gave me one more opportunity to TRY.

When I returned to the pool, I made sure to be the first one in at warm-ups (for the second time today) and began reworking my breaststroke. I tried to pay close attention to the advice I had received in the past. I tried to pay close attention to my muscles and brain. I tried to pay close attention to the others swimming around me. Once my warm-up was complete, I leeched into the brain of one of my Paralympic coach friends to see what sort of quick-fix he could offer.

With some valid advice in tow, I headed back to the warm-up pool in search of my stroke. After a few alterations and some sprints, I had to reassure myself that I was okay and I needed to stop and get out.

The race came and went. The few glimpses that I recall from the event itself: feeling at ease with my start, hoping for a better time, gaining some pesky lactic acid in the second half, and feeling scared to look at the time board.

When it was all said and done, I took off 6 seconds from my time this morning... yet I am still nowhere near my Santa Clara pace and have even less of a clue as to why.

My discouragement has subsided for the most part. I am learning so much here. I am connecting with wonderful and beautiful people who want nothing more than to help. I am realizing so much about myself as an athlete, among other meaningful identities. I am working on figuring out exactly what I am missing. I am lucky to be here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can/Am Para Swim Meet Link

Go to:

Click on EVENTS and find the meet that way. You can follow along with meet events, results, and possibly multimedia stuff too!!


Yesterday was my first glimpse into an International swim event. The moment we got to the pool, my intimidation factor kept creeping its way into my frontal lobe. There were people and athletes everywhere. Every athlete that I saw could easily beat me in a race, making it really hard for me to choose a lane to workout in. There were hardly any wheelchairs on the deck at all.

I had to keep myself positive and excited to be there amidst that creeping factor that was telling me otherwise.

At my classification appointment, I received both a bench test and an in-water test to determine each class for each stroke I am to swim. It was quite a process: lying on a massage table in my swimsuit being poked by any of 5 given classification trainers at any given time. One of them kept giving me higher numbers (noting more function) than the rest, but he was the boss!

When it was all said and done, I was reclassified into a higher class than I was in before, which will now become my new class once they watch me compete and finalize the whole process.

What does that mean for me? The competition will be harder. The times will be faster.

So me? I will work harder and go faster.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

From Earlier Today...

I write, sitting on a fairly uninhabited airplane somewhere over the Midwest, feeling more blessed than ever. Headed toward Toronto with my heart filled full-up of good lucks and go get ‘ems!, I can’t help but pump that positive energy throughout my entire bloodstream.

The last few days of planning have been a complete whirlwind and I, as Dorothy, trying desperately trying to hold on just to make it my Oz. I have had complications with my flight, frogs in my throat, and excessive amounts of mitosis laboratory experiments distracting me from fully being able to appreciate this journey.

So now, with Sarah at my side reading a novel and contemplating the clouds over and beneath, I have a chance to drink in all of the amazements that I have in my life:

1. I am on a plane to Canada to compete and swim in a manner that I have never even been able to imagine before, wheelchair or otherwise.

2. I am healthy and plan on staying that way. I have never felt so much energy and life surging throughout my entire being the way that I do today.

3. I am loved. This week alone, I have received donations specifically intended for this trip by those around me who believe in me more than I have ever believed in myself. THANK YOU!!

4. I am able to find the most beautiful and intimate happiness under water. Listening to the opposition of noise and breathing my own life into the water that suspends me, I know that my soul absorbs these moments with great appreciation.

5. I am just now beginning to believe in myself too. The note-to-self written strategically in a half-dried out dry erase marker on my car’s windshield stating, “At least I’m ready to TRY” coupled with the confidence and strength of those around me are convincing enough.

I don’t know where this journey will take me (other than the obvious answer: Canada). But what I do know is that I am ready to TRY.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dear Me,

You know that you really struggle mentally with taper, but I just want to tell you that you will be fine. You are much stronger and more in-control than you let yourself believe.

You are a good coach and you have coached yourself through some very fantastic accomplishments so far, both in and out of the water. Trust that. Trust you.

There will be obstacles; there should be. Take those obstacles and embrace the power they hold. Learn and move on. This is exactly what life is about. You have the ability to achieve so much, if you just allow it to be so.

That feeling that overcomes you during a race, that one that you fear because you can't control it; you actually can. YOU are the one that created that energy in the first place. You just have to learn how to use it during your race. In a week you will have the opportunity to try it out. You are lucky.

Feel it all, take it all in. Believe in yourself and enjoy this journey.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Calling All Not-So-Negative Nancys!

As the days are finding a more narrowed gap to shine though, I am getting closer and closer to my meet in Toronto. I have begun tapering and my body is quite thankful for that. However, my brain seems to consistently struggle with the whole concept of a taper.

Taper workouts are exactly what they sound like. An athlete will taper his or her training as the date of competition nears. Workouts become slowly shorter, allowing for longer rest in between sets; all the while maintaining the optimal intensity of each stroke and turn throughout these sets. My body relishes in extra rest at the wall. I comply to all requests: stretching each finger one-by-one, blowing slowed bubbles to return a normal heart rhythm, lying ceiling-ward envisioning the whole thing coming together.

Sounds like a dream, right? Then why is this the absolute hardest part of all of my training?

I can coach my body into its utmost physical shape. I can pace wall-to-wall with increasing ease. I can reprimand a loss for stroke count. BUT...

I simply struggle with getting my brain into its utmost mental shape. I struggle to even think about the other competitors. I almost lose my mind thinking about the impending nerves in Toronto.

How can I get over this? THIS is why I hate taper. Tapering means that I am nearing my final training sessions and cannot go back. I can't wallow in any sort of coulda-woulda-shouldas. I have to have COMPLETE confidence in my mind, body, and spirit; and the belief that they will all work congruently and seamlessly when asked.

All along, my biggest challenge as an athlete has been myself. I began to overcome that the second I decided to start competing again. Sending off a big, "screw you" to all those Negative Nancys that live, hiding, between sutures and cracks in my cerebrum. This has been my hardest job yet: silencing those Nancys and finding newer, Not-So-Negative Nancys to pay attention to.

Newer Nancys, help?!

Perhaps the lesson here is the struggle. I truly feel that if I could overcome my own self, I could truly accomplish anything. For the first time, I recognize both THIS and the urgency to TRY!

Nancys and anything else living beneath the cracks of my brain, see you in Toronto!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks & Giving

'Tis the season to love and laugh and share with others. There is something about the time of year when the cool winter air begins warming people's hearts.

I have experienced much gratitude today in many facets of my life.There were dozens of tiny sparks of love shared in my presence and I wanted to make sure to recount a few of them for my own cyber-safe keeping.

For starters, today brought about a generous donation of training gear and an even more generous boost of enthusiasm and encouragement from the man behind Out of Breath Sports shop in Englewood, Jim Cotsworth. Both generosities couldn't have come at a more opportune time for me. The renewed sense of motivation that both Pam and Jim at the shop gave me will, undoubtedly, carry me through Toronto.

I was so proud to update them on my swimming ventures; seeing as they were there at the very beginning. I have known Pam and Jim since I started swimming competitively as a wee 8 year old and worked directly with both as a board member of the neighborhood community teams after my accident. What I realized most, was that it was beyond comprehension how much support you have when you open your eyes to it. I left given a bag full of goodies and a heart full of joy.

Sometimes giving can be much more transparent. After leaving the swim shop, full-heart in tow, I made--what I thought would be-- a quick journey to pick up some pottery that I had painted several weeks before, and head-hangingly neglected. This shop is one of those paint-your-own-masterpiece kind of joints and is run by one of the most beautiful spirits I've come across. Sadly, when I painted my piece a few weeks back, she wasn't there. I hadn't been in the shop for over 3 years, so I wasn't terribly surprised to assume that things had changed since then.

However, to my heart's surprise, she greeted me at the door this afternoon. We caught up using brief attempts at simplifying years' time. I told her all about my swimming. I was so excited to share this with her. In fact, I ended up sharing many things with her in our short correspondence today and, as beautiful and lovely of a spirit she may possess, I didn't really understand the magnitude of either my divulgement or excitement for it... until just now.

Three triple-coat layer years ago, my grandma and I used to go to this pottery shop to paint and share stories. While painting, we'd gab around all sorts of things from school to coaching to family gossip. I miss that. I miss her.

Today, flashed-forward, I found myself longing to have such a paint n' gab session. It was almost as if I were trying to fill my grandmother in on the last three years, highlighting those stories and giving details on events that I know that she'd truly adore in all her wildness. It was cathartic.

I imagine those close to me will be getting various ceramic goods this holiday season...

Giving can be a display of grandeur with arms outstretched, or it can be a subtle smile from a could-have-been stranger. The challenge truly lies in recognizing the gift of giving as it unveils itself to you as that last, hidden present under the tree or that extra slice of pumpkin pie that only Grandma would knew you needed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Facing the Current

As a general rule, fish do not swim upstream. Rather, they sit idle facing the current to catch food and such throughout their day. I have felt much of this lately.

I am continually facing the current, not necessarily to catch food per se (although food has become of utmost importance in my life recently), but more so in terms of the swimming itself. Whether it be the increasing numbness in my fingers or the near-miss with being reclassified, I have faced a slow and steady, yet strong current for the past couple of weeks.

As the days pass I am nearing closer and closer to the Can/Am Meet in Toronto. My body is sitting near its breaking point, yelling at me with sore muscles and pinched off nerves. I try my best to listen to the yelling by stretching and resting, but more typically I ignore it and fight on with the current.

If it were entirely up to me, I would call upon my fairy godmother of a massage therapist, Carla, yet my lack of finances have me on an invisible, yet extremely short, leash. Perhaps I should inquire about getting a financial fairy godmother...

I have never been so worried about money; in fact, I have always been sort of the opposite. I have never been one to appreciate money for its less-than-ironic worth, but now I am starting to feel the restraint. Mostly likely due to my overzealous t-shirt purchasing spree combined with the lack of selling said overzealous purchased tees; I am left scraping just to secure my trip to Toronto let alone my actual training.

That was managing to stay secured until I received a rather startled email regarding my reclassification appointment...

Classification is a process where each athlete is tested and put in a category based upon his or her functional abilities. To my knowledge, my class was set and there wasn't a sledgehammer in the place that could crack that. I was sorely mistaken.

The email I received, both tactfully and bluntly, was reminding me of my classification appointment on Wednesday, December 8th in Toronto! I was due to land in Toronto on Thursday, December 9th!

After some stress-laden email correspondence with the folks in Toronto, I panicked and changed my flight, hotel, and car rental. With much hesitation, I have yet to change my friend/trainer's flight; which will be interesting seeing as my car rental does NOT come with hand controls for me to drive with.

I can figure this out. I always do. Besides, if I wasn't to face the current, I wouldn't be able to feel the strength of the source. I wouldn't clearly understand the challenges of reaching for something that you desire truly down through your soul. Facing this current causes me address my challenges, while becoming stronger for that, rather idle, yet fierce stare-down.

So from here, i will continue to gaze upstream, smile in tow; full knowing that I am in the middle of something quite phenomenal.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Coach Ryan"

I forgot how fantastic it feels to be called Coach Ryan. It's so funny how a simple title like that can feel so empowering.

For about a month now, I have been coaching for a year-round swim team called, Swim Dogs. They are a fabulous team that I swear was designed around my own coaching philosophies. There is a strong focus on community and unity, as well as improving your strokes and your heart for the sport.

I have the responsibility of encouraging and guiding the little guys. They are utterly wonderful. Their energy and spark is inspiring and flows throughout the pool like a beautiful perfume. The reception of kids that age is so remarkable. They want to get better and they want you to be proud. Where does that go as you age? I try to learn from these kiddos and borrow little bits of their energies to store in my pockets and use for my own swim training.

The other day was the first time I was referred to as, "coach Ryan." It was simply music to my ears. I hadn't realized ever before the pride that I have to be a coach and the happiness that I feel when acting the part.

I'm so glad to be back in the pool as well as out of the pool. This full-circle of the sport will only make me a stronger contender in the end. I will forever hold close that identity of swimmer/coach.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Personal Pursuit of Publicities

I am learning that this journey is a process that goes far beyond my daily training regimens and sacrifices.

This journey is about step-by-step tidbits like getting my name heard
by the right people. These "right people" could be those people with Paralympic ties or they can be people who are willing to donate to my cause; but either way, I know that I need to reach these guys.

It is a huge struggle for me to outwardly attempt to vie for others' attention, but I have taken a large gulp and stood out on this limb of uncharted and scary territory, in order to know that I have done EVERYTHING in my power to get me to where I know I can be.

Needless to say, I just spent the majority of this Halloween day contacting media sources from all over, ranging from big-time celeb-types, to local new
s vendors that may remember me from past. It has been grueling to sit out here amongst these sparse changing leaves hoping that this limb won't snap.

However, as I have said many times before, when you are on the right path you just know it. After spending nearly all of my brain capacity at my computer trying to connect with the media mongers of the world, I stumbled upon (I use this statement loosely, considering I "stumble" here everyday) the US Paralympic Swimming site a
nd noticed that my name has now made it on the list, four times!

All in a day's work, I suppose. Break time over, now back to my personal pursuit of publicity.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Selfishness of the Sport

What sets apart a good athlete from a GREAT athlete?

Everyone can acknowledge the fact that it comes down to more than gear or coaching staff or (on some level) raw talent. A GREAT athlete has something much, much more.

It is my theory that these athletes are born. They are born, not necessarily just within a great gene pool or notable resources, but rather something more involving synapses and a mental capacity for the entire game itself.

This is an area in which I have always struggled. I identify with being an athlete through and through; however, that has never been enough. There has always been a missing electric firing that has kept me at more of a neutral than an acceleration. In high school, I never excelled to my full potential athletically. and I realize that now. Come to think of it, I realized it then too. I was afraid. I seemed to always be afraid. Afraid of being good. Afraid of failing after being good. Afraid of thinking I was good only to fail. Afraid of acting elite, when I was really a bouncy blondish girl from South Denver.

Thus, I never fully succeeded. I never fully pushed myself and I never found that part in my brain that sets elite athletes from the rest of us.

Lately, I have been thinking about this a lot. Comparing those that I know that ARE elite athletes and quietly picking at their brains and analyzing attitudes. In this, I have found that these individuals are, in fact, different than the rest of us, and that difference lies in the ego.

Outwardly, this sounds like a terrible notion. You need to be a selfish, narcissistic person to really succeed? Well folks, this is partly true.

I have never considered myself to be selfish, if anything I have always been consumed with the opposite: trying to do everything for everyone else and, many times, neglecting myself entirely. My personal position on this spectrum can actually be considered quite a detriment to me and has led to many a struggle both internally and externally.

However, in my research of the athlete's brain, it has suddenly become apparent that the more involved you become with the sport, the less involved you become with everything else-- thus becoming more selfish. Let me explain... The more I train, the less I spend those hours with friends and family. The more I desire to train, the less I desire to spend those longing hours with those same friends and family.

Here's another, fairly insignificant, yet noteworthy, example:
Yesterday I got my hair cut. I mean chopped. This occurrence isn't itself a huge deal; however, the timing is. I have been donating my hair for years. Growing and cutting, growing and cutting. It has worked well for me, bringing purpose to my hair and feeling satisfied for the cause. But yesterday, I cut it too soon. I selfishly cut my hair to make my daily routine easier in light of all my swimming. I sacrificed something very meaningful for me in order to pursue something equally meaningful... yet selfish.

I'm not sure what this all means. Am I on the road to becoming a selfish hermit who has self-ostracized from all human contact? I really hope not. Am I on a different, yet more subtle road, one that involves greater success and achievement as I become more competitive in the water?

Regardless, in the end, all of this swimming is really to provide an example to EVERYONE that dreams can be achieved no matter the actual vehicle for it. So, perhaps this selfishness can be counter-balanced...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A New Winding Path

Something that I've told myself all along, as experience electrifies lightning throughout the atmosphere, is that if it isn't a challenge, it probably isn't worth doing in the first place.

So far, my swimming journey has been rather effortless. I've been able to coast alone on good graces, karma, and luck. Don't get me wrong, I have appreciated every bit of it... being someone that hasn't felt that sort of forward propulsion much in her life in the last couple of years. I have soaked it all in, almost to the point where I have lost sight of my original mantra:

If it isn't a challenge, it probably isn't worth doing in the first place.

That's when, in my new-found habit of daily swim research, I came across the freshly published list of Paralympic events for London 2012. I quickly scrolled down the list to look at time standards for all of my favorite events. N/A. Wait?? What is that supposed to mean? I scrolled through the remaining events in my classification. N/A. Wait! Except for the majority of the freestyle and butterfly events, my classification events are "not applicable"? Could this be correct?

With all kinds of worries and questions and potential disappointments running around in my head, I quickly phoned the only source I could think of to set me straight. He was even uncertain. In light of my recent successes in confidence, I didn't even hesitate to go straight to the source. So, I emailed the International Paralympic Committee myself.

I had my answer within a few, nail-bitting days. Apparently, it has been decided that any of the events where there isn't enough of a population to inhabit them will be eliminated in the events list; therefore, 99% of all of my classification events.

Immediately, I was crushed. My heart sank deep into the folds of my intestines. I was lost. My journey had always been very specific in terms of being a linear progress starting from now and ending in London 2012. Now what was I supposed to do?

The answer: WORK HARDER.

The process, the step-by-step venture, is what this journey is all about. Glitches in the system and bumps in the road should be clear indications that there are lessons to be learned and emotions to be felt. They are all reminders that I am alive and reaching for more. The news about the Paralympic events list is a neon sign reminder that I must push harder than ever before. I must gaze inside of me deeper than I had ever dared. I must trust in myself in ways that I have always feared.

This news is no longer a setback to me; but rather a twist in the pathway of my dreams, winding to challenge me to accomplish new heights that have been left unimaginable otherwise.

So, my plans have changed, but only slightly. My goals are greater. Now, I have the opportunity to attempt to qualify to the Paralympics in events that are ABOVE my current classification, swimming with athletes with more functional abilities. I also have the opportunity to concentrate on strokes that I would have rather left for dead than swim in a meet-- the dreaded freestyle and butterfly.

The path hasn't changed. The path has only become more beautiful; being able to see the outline of endless fields and sunshine, in the midst of that very-purposeful, winding earth for only me to follow.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dancing & Debriefing

Of the many things that keep dancing through my head as I return to normalcy and out of my "swim meet" brain, one jive in particular keeps twirling around and around and around...

For those who know me personally, I have always been my worst critic. I have never been known as a negative person, nor even much of a realist-- until it pertains to ME. I will be the first to point out that flaw, or to stifle and undue happiness, or to disregard any kind of praise whatsoever-- only when it pertains to ME.

However, when concerning the other 99.99% of the world's population, I am much more likely to be called a dreamer, or an optimist, or maybe even just a really nice person. But for one reason or another, it is so difficult to behave in that normal nature within myself.

Throughout the course of the swim meet, that pessimistic me was going full force. When people referred to my American records, I scoffed and usually added something about it being "silly" or "not real records." I created this nasty little voice inside of my head that was unwilling to let me be happy.

It wasn't really until I had some time to debrief and let some of those other dances in that I realized something quite profound for that nasty me: I obviously wasn't able to accomplish such a feat before.

Somehow in some sort of double-negative existence, that pessimistic view canceled out the prior one and.... POOF!... they both disappeared.

What I was left with was this: The realization that at a decade in time before today I didn't have the strength nor the courage (either physical or otherwise) to compete in a manner that I did this weekend. I hadn't had that power inside of me to experiment upon my own will and challenge the value of that conscious effort. I hadn't deserved any of it, until now.

And that was that. All of those notions of negative blankets no longer covered my mind, nor my eyes. I feel a giant release in my own self-discovery.

I knew that this process was about more than just swimming, but I am so curious now to challenge that very idea just to see how far it actually takes me, inside and out.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Own Meet Results

Wow. What a weekend.

There are so many things running through my head... ranging from, "You shouldn't have taken that extra breath to the wall in your free," to "What the heck? American records? Plural?!"

I couldn't have planned out a better meet for me if it were me playing the part of the fateful Universe. My events were grouped well. The climate of the meet was both a huge event and-- at the same time-- a very casual event, which I think helped calm my nerves while giving me a lot of education in the expectation of future meets to come.

Being the only swimmer in all of my classifications (S5-SB3-SM4) I received medals in all 8 of my events. I shattered most of my entry times, seeing as I picked them like the most random lotto numbers in a row-- made up of favorite date numbers and numbers of luck. I set 3 American records (officially) that have never been set before, and I broke 1 American record that was set in 2001 (unofficially still at this point).

The buzzing in my brain and body is so electric. I am so proud of my first endeavor and so blessed that the experience became so much more encouraging than I had ever planned. I had several coaches and Paralympic-involved folks come up and offer up their own encouragements and advice for moving further. It's officially GO TIME!

So, what's next? I have qualified for the Can/Am Games in Toronto in December. I guess I don't have a lot of time to rest and celebrate, but I am psyched to be living in this moment. In the next few weeks I will have to really do a lot of work to find additional sponsorships and monies to fund the trip in Toronto, namely, but also the future training and preparations. But, I feel like I am doing everything right. My goal from this meet was to get my name buzzing in the manner my brain is moving at this moment. I'm on the right track. Being told that there could be much use for me in future teams and events is exhilarating.

I have never been so pleased with my own efforts. I am so quick to give credit to others, which there is definitely some of that to be mentioned. However, I have gotten myself to this point purely by making a promise to my own self to try. And I will continue that promise through every stroke and through every breath and through every turn and continue through beyond...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Santa Clara Disability Meet Results

And So It Begins...

I am sitting here all suited up in my hotel room waiting to head over to the pool. I swear my nerves haven't quite set in, and I can't really figure out why.

Is it because my body and brain are so baffled by the sense of athletic competition because they haven't seen it for over a decade?

Is it because I know that this is the place I am supposed to be and I just can't wait to put all of my hard work to use?

Never mind, I just figured it out... Off to the pool!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sponsored By SPEEDO

Everyone grows up with the notion that if it isn't hard, it isn't worth doing. Up until now, I have had all the evidence supporting this statement... until now.

When I first made the decision to start competing again, I knew that it felt right and that the path was paved in brilliant lights and the smoothest paved roadway. This decision has continued to feel right, and in that, things have just continued down that path, coming together and fine-tuning everything along the way.

I've had wonderful people approach me and carry out fantastic fundraisers in my honor. I've had gracious strangers donate personal time and efforts to create shirts and encouragement. I've even had experts approach me and help me with my strokes.

And today, I received a call from the single-most known swim supplier in the nation: Speedo. The godlike Speedo-man asked me what I needed in terms of equipment. I was virtually speechless. My answer?

"Well, I can't tell you what I don't need-- fins or a kickboard."

I think that statement gave him the confidence to tell me what HE thought I might need. He offered up practice suits and competition suits and goggles and caps. Still speechless, hanging on the other line, he prompted me for my address. He finished by letting me know that my package should arrive in about 3 days.

3 days? In 3 days I will be receiving a fairly large package full of hope and strength and encouragement. With any luck, they will show up just before I leave for the airport...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Swimming Through the Ages: A Data Table

With my "comeback" meet only a few days from now, I thought it important to share what I've been thinking about regarding my training... in the most methodical (non-Ryanesque) way I could think of: a data table.

What It's Like To Swim, From A Kid Perspective & An Adult Perspective

Swimming As A Kiddo

Swimming As An Adult

1. Hating morning practices

2. Being able to eat anything and everything within arm’s reach

3. Spending hours deciding on the coolest practice suits and tying little knots to connect holes in really old ones, because it looks cool

4. Passing the time in the pool thinking about those weekend plans that you are dying for

5. Having weekend plans

6. Loving the very concept of tapering

7. Being meet-ready means having cool new mirrored goggles and a big read Gatorade

8. Enjoying your time between sets with chatting with friends and making semi-real bathroom runs

9. During a hard set, hoping that maybe you’d just break your arm or something so that you could stop and relax

10. Taking it all for granted

1. Loving morning practices

2. Being able to eat nothing with artificial colors, trans-fats, or processed

3. Purchasing “grab bag” suits online because you don’t really care what it looks like, but at the same time learning to throw away suits that should be retired

4. Passing the time in the pool concentrating on perfecting your stroke, one more time

5. Training on 9:30 on a Saturday night, because you feel good at that moment

6. Loathing the very concept of tapering

7. Being meet-ready means being at the brink of mental and physical exhaustion but somehow gaining enough energy to write personal affirmations

8. Enjoying your time between sets by attempting to gain the feeling back in your right hand

9. During a hard set, hoping to the Universe that you won’t break your arm or anything, ever

10. Appreciating ever single moment of it

Monday, September 20, 2010

Exhaustion Isn't Enough

With my meet coming up in a little less than two weeks, I can't help but allow a flood of feelings and waves of emotions towards my heart.

I am really doing this.

Those are the words that I keep incessantly repeating over and over again in my mind. Not because I am hesitant in anyway, but simply because of the opposite: I am excited from every molecule of my body.

Likewise, however, I am also tired from every molecule in my body. I spent the latter part of my Saturday night gorging myself--free from any guilt--full of food at Starbucks (yes, I said FOOD). I had finished my longest and hardest swim to date and by the time it was all said and done, both mind and body were waving that little white flag, now full of frays and stains. It was all I could do to make it across the street to the always-convenient Starbucks location next to the pool. That evening, I consumed well over 1000 calories in pure Starbucks delight; without it, I fear, I would have never quite made it home.

I haven't felt this sort of energy depletion since... well, since ever. The closest thing I have to it would be post-marathon or triathlon exhaustion. But this is definitely more. More exhaustion, but then again it involves a lot more heart too.

More than anything, I am proud of this tiredness. It comes from a special place inside of me that has been hiding my whole life. This exhaustion proves that I am not only strong enough inside and out, but that I am brave enough.

This is the first time I have been brave enough. I am really doing this.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Heart of the Matter

Sometimes all you need is a little heart to get the job done.

Without a lot of planning or advertising, the quaint fundraiser at the park was a complete success! This event was a perfect beginning to what, I hope, will be a long journey ahead of me. The encouragement felt from my friends, peers, family, community, and every heart in between tells me that I'm doing something right.

While swimming this morning, I spent the entire workout focusing on each and every person that extended their support yesterday. I reflected upon smiles and hugs and words of wisdom and the song of support. What powerful motivation!

Just now this journey has become so much bigger and wilder. It is already gone far beyond the actual sport and my own heart. This journey is sure to take me places and I am now ever-aware that it will take others places too.

I just hope everyone is ready...

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Is my first-ever swimming fundraiser event! It will be an ice cream party at the park. It's at Foxridge Park in Centennial, in the very neighborhood that I grew up in!

The event will start at 2-o'clock and will be complete with rainbow sprinkles and a cherry on top.

I am very excited to celebrate this new path of mine, and even more so my upcoming meet in Santa Clara. Thank you to everyone who has made this event come together as seamlessly as it has!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Sunshine of My Life

The sun came in through the window today at the pool to remind me of its existence. As I bobbed melodically through my breaststroke set, the sun began its daily decent downward.

The corner of the pool is made up of two wall-sized windows that come together at a refreshing point, keeping those swimmers aware of the outside world; that world that displays either dawn, daylight, dusk, or dark (or a combination of some, if you are me). All of which are comforting to recognize as you turn at the end of the pool where this window corner resides.

Tonight was the first time, however, that I experienced the sun setting right in front of my lane. It was simply magic the way that the sun shone in past the glass panes and directly into my eyes. With each stroke, my head broke through the water's surface only to greet the most brilliant of yellow motivation. I couldn't see anything above the water but light. The contrast from above and below was stark. I didn't squint or blink through my breaths, but rather I smiled.

For those brief twenty minutes or so that the sun landed perfectly in my lane, my set became something so new and beautiful. At each wall my surroundings changed from nothing but light to only the remnants of it. Although swimming directly into the sun was stunning, so was swimming away from it. As I pushed off the wall with patterned hands and arms, my surroundings turned to reflections of everything that was behind me. The sun had caught waves and was dancing around like thousands of disco balls, both above and beneath the water line. The resulting images appeared to me as cyclical lightning bolts, like spaces between all the molecules in the universe. The reflection seemed symmetrical from both the movement of the water and the walls and ceiling that encased me in this pool. This was a good workout.

Swimming, most times, isn't only about the swimming... if you are willing to open your eyes and your heart to it all.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Intimidation Begins

Perhaps throughout my training I should spend more time focusing on my brain and all of its matters as a competitor. My level of intimidation is high, currently, and my muscles end up being heavily molded by those intimidations.

Today I had, what some may call, an experience of a lifetime. I had the fortunate pleasure of hopping into the 50-meter swimming pool at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and being coached by the Paralympic Team Resident Coach. From the very first moment I drove into the parking lot, my heart began to race.

After finishing my first lap, I told the (very gracious) coach that my heart felt like I was sprinting; which in fact my body had to disagree. My nerves were getting to me.

For one reason or another, I have let my confidence go by the wayside over the past few years. It has been quite unintentional and very regretful, but nonetheless, something that has occurred.

Although my main focus remains increasing my yardage in the pool and regaining a sprint quality race, I now need to resurface a confidence that has had pictures on milk cartons and in post offices around town, no doubt.

Have you seen my confidence? If so, please consult me immediately on this matter.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wear Your Support!

For purchasing information, please contact me directly or send an email to:

TEAM RY ------- $10
(Available in both youth & adult sizes)

Description: Team Ry logo on front center. Back side has quote on shoulder blade area. Shirt is in hot pink only, preshrunk 100% cotton.

"OM" INSPIRED BY RYAN ----$10 white, $15 tye dye
(Adult sizes only)

Description: Front has "OM" symbol in middle. Back side has various adjectives covering the whole back. Available in white cotton or hand tye dye.

(Adult sizes only)

Description: Front only. Ryan logo is in the middle of the shirt. White cotton only. Sizes are limited.

It's Time To TRY

In hopes of spreading, not only the word of my training goals, but also something of far more importance: the concept of TRYING, I am offering t-shirts for sale to help propel these dreams of mine.

I am currently piled up with paperwork and processing to establish a non-profit for this new journey. I am accruing a multitude of expenses ranging from flights to swim meets, training gear, and various other items that strangely add up to a lot.

So here is the chance to help me foster a simple, yet not very well practiced, concept: TRYING.

The word TRY is a short syllable of a word, with a long and extensive meaning to me. The world is full of opportunity and disappointment; however, if you give it your all, you will succeed every single time. It is only now that I am truly understanding the meaning behind TRYING. All along, I thought I had been giving it my all, when I had just been too afraid to pursue anything whole-heartedly... until now.

Swimming has always been a part of my life, in one way or another. Swimming was something that I learned before learning basic words of speech or the movement of crawling. Swimming was something that gave me normalcy and a life back after a tragic car accident. Swimming was something that got me out of my wheelchair, yet still being able to move places.

Swimming IS something that can prove to me that in TRYING comes success.

I have never fully believed this within me until now. I am stronger than I ever have been, both physically and mentally. I am ready to prove all of my inspirations true and can't wait to share them with the world.

Please spread the word. TRY.

"It's never too late to be what you might have been." --George Eliot

Thursday, August 26, 2010

All From One Tiny Droplet

The race is on. Water is life. Power is felt when guided by such a force.

I have just a little over a month until I leave for Santa Clara. I have been swimming virtually everyday, sometimes at the wee hours in which certainly no one chooses to jump into a cold pool without true spirit of the sport.

Next week, I will begin my quest for 2-a-day practicing (only on Tuesdays and Thursdays). I will continue this only through September 15th, and then ease back down and prepare for the competition I've been waiting for all these months.

It's interesting how your maturity and wise-offerings start to pour into your athleticism as you age. I would have never had the drive and diligence ten years ago, or even two. I am constantly coaching myself and encouraging through every stroke and every turn. I don't allow myself to be defeated for too long. I rage with fight in moments where I feel weak (either physically or mentally). I force myself to challenge those things I'd rather not. I listen to my body and treat it with the utmost of care and concern. I spend hours contemplating the movement of the water and the reaction of my body underneath.

Although I haven't quite accomplished a true race up to this point, I feel like I have accomplished many tiny droplets along the way. These droplets certainly do add up and create quite a puddle as they link their little molecules of life together, combing to force waves and stir currents. To add beauty to the world and nourishment to all living things.

Those droplets are probably the most important part of this whole thing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Helen Said It Best

"Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved."
-- Helen Keller

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Signed, Sealed, Delivered!

My tongue is bitter and my fingers sore, outlined in paper cuts. BUT my spirits are high.

I have successfully created, printed, addressed, and prepared over 40 different sponsorship request letters to be sent out in the mail first thing on Monday morning. I am not holding my breath for much of a response; however, I feel really great solely about the attempt.

This is something I would have never considered in my past swimming life. New beginnings create new endings, every single time. I'm sure of it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sponsor-shots In the Dark

And now begins the most dreadful part of this experience... gaining sponsorships.

It isn't so bad telling people about my goals or explaining this journey, but it IS extremely hard expressing my need for financial (and otherwise) aid to make my goals realities. It sort of feels like I am selling myself, although rather appropriately.

Tonight, I just finished preparing 36 sponsorship letters to various establishments and people in and not-so-in my life. Twenty of those letters are headed to local fraternities and sororities in the community in the hopes of fulfilling a necessary philanthropy of theirs.

Some letters are extremely personal and specific, others a simple shot in the dark. Those shot-in-the-darkers are large corporations that may have something to do with either disabilities, sports, or both.

And I thought swimming was going to be hard...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Lost... sprint today.

Hopefully it will return for tomorrow's morning swim.

Monday, July 26, 2010

2 (Sort of) Firsts, Maybe 3

Today was a day for nearly firsts...

I spent the afternoon swimming outdoors in a 50-meter pool!

1) I forgot how amazing it f eels to swim outdoors, soaking up the sunshine. Years ago, I used to swim every morning by myself before I coached in the summer. I was the only one at the pool and it made for quite an intimate occasion. Just me and the water.

2) Long-course swimming has never been a huge pleasure for me. When I was a kid, I spent only a few moments training for such a pool because the long-course season was in the summer and my heart was dedicated to my neighborhood club and timing was reserved for them. I have to admit, it is very intimidating to start at one end and search longingly for the other. After a few laps, however, my body realized that the scared feelings I was having came only from my brain. My body quickly got to work, relishing in the fact that I didn't have to mess with turning on those stupid walls much.

The whole experience was fantastic and caught on tape. My best friend accompanied me, giving some much needed advice and capturing my movements on camera so that I could actually view something other than bubbles.

Watching myself swim is teaching me so much about my body. Doing the swimming is also teaching me so much about my body. Today, we realized that I may have one hip working, but only one. This knowledge is very exciting considering the last time I competed I had NO hips. (I suppose this can be considered a first too!)

Truthfully, I have never been so aware of my body... not even when I worked in calipers among stem cell injections. Never. Ever.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Sprint

It's been over 13 years since I have felt "the sprint." For some reason, ever since losing the use of my lower half I have also lost the use of my sprint.

It didn't matter how much I tried or how much I wanted it, I just couldn't seem to find it. Did it get swallowed whole by a giant whale? Did it find its way into an eternal game of Hide & Seek? Did it fall down the well without Lassie around?

Who's to say...

Nonetheless, today I found my sprint. I just hope it decides to stick around this time...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Beyond the Swim

Training is one thing, succeeding is another.

I am slowly learning that in order to succeed to the ultimate goal of making the Paralympic team in 2012 that training is only a fraction of this undertaking.

Other than swimming, I am spending a lot of time constructing sponsorship letters to try to get some of my dreams funded. Breaking down the expenses, this is going to be a long haul. My first meet in October is going to cost me over $1000, not to mention all of the expenses just to get to October!

I feel good about it all though. When I competed a decade ago, it didn't even enter my brain to try to receive sponsorships or donations. It didn't even dawn on me to attempt to gain publicity for my athletic endeavor. Perhaps that is what 10 years does for you. I suppose I am wiser and have different goals than I did back then.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to SWIM... but this time around I realize that there is actually so many other goals that spread out from there. Like the rays on the sun's shine. It's rather beautiful really.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Santa Clara Disability Meet

Done. It's in the mail.

My registration for my first swim meet in over a decade has been turned in. Signing up for the Santa Clara Swim Club Disability Meet in Santa Clara, CA has left my heart pounding, trying its best to tell me about the spectrum of excitement and nerves as it pumps blood to help me move.

The meet will be held on October 2nd and 3rd over the span of three separate swimming sessions. Throughout those sessions, I will be participating in around a half dozen events.

This is the first of, hopefully, a long string of events in learning: both in the emotional and mental sense, but also in a physical sense as well. I am learning through my training how to communicate between my brain and body much more than ever before.

The next step? Continue training and working on sponsorships. Of course, no dream comes without great cost (both figuratively and literally-speaking). I believe that this time around I will be smarter when tackling both.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dive In & Go!

Blogging, I have found through diving in head-first, has been an extremely meaningful way for connecting with others as well as with myself. So, it almost seemed necessary when attempting a new and exciting adventure in my life to write and chronicle those steps of that journey.

My latest journey, through the sport of swimming has been inside of me all along. However, it took a fairly unfortunate string of health-related events to find it...

I grew up as a swimmer; in fact, I was swimming in the local community pools before even learning how to take my first steps. Ironically enough, I have since given up those steps, but not given up on the swim.

Swimming is something that I believe will always be a part of me, in one way or another. I've taken the role of swimmer, captain, instructor, and coach; wearing each hat as proud as the next. Swimming has always been something that feels right to me, like smiling at a stranger. It is also something that feels necessary to me; like exhaling a breath.

However, in the past decade or so I have lost my sense for the swim; trading my goggles in for valid attempts at finding myself, all the while returning (ever so comfortably) to the pool. Right now my heart tells me it is time. It is time to let go of all my fears and hopes and just TRY.

My hope is that in trying I will become victorious at something. I will become healthier, stronger, more alive, and (most of all) learn a thing or two along the way.