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.