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?