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.