Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Path of Most Meaning for Me

I'm not even sure where to start. Good friend, Blogger, it's been awhile.

I haven't necessarily been on strike, nor have I had a lack of content to write about; but for whatever reason, I have kept more of a recluse status since returning from Guadalajara. It's also not depression or my busy schedule. However, as time passes and more life cranks by, I seem to get more and more bogged down by how to catch up and simultaneously write something meaningful and heartfelt. So, finally, I am not going to worry about it anymore. I am just going to write.

Being in the midst of the infamously tumultuous holiday season, I find myself being more and more introspective than normal. My thoughts jump across the sky as though a meteor shower of the mind. Some of those stars resemble my current financial state, or my ever-present swim goals, or my two-year-old niece, or my lack of gutters, or my desire to write, or my grandma, or my addiction to soy lattes, or my increasingly numb hands, or my talking laundry pile, or my obviously neglected blog. You see? Meteor shower.

At any rate, I am pushing forward and finding a path of most meaning for me. What is most remarkable, is that I have no idea what this path actually looks like, nor feels like until actually stepping right on it. Perhaps that is exactly what life should be.

I have always felt it important to neither dwell in the past or future of your journey, but rather the immediate moment. And here in this moment, I cannot be bothered with my empty bank account, nor my desire to swim in London, but rather I need to take care of right now.

There are plenty of things just on the horizon, glowing the color of hope and excitement. These things include a brief sample documentary, new wheelchair caster wheels, getting a story published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, planning a swim training session/spring break extravaganza, more sunlight in my days, and working on establishing Team AWE to be everything that I know it could be.

But those things, even though in sight, are still far from this present moment, so I will hold off some on that excitement and focus and my excitement of this day, today.

As a matter of fact, I think it's time to go find that "today's excitement", that path of most meaning for me -- and you should too...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

To Feel A Part

So many things have kept my attention these last few days that I, A) haven't had time to share them and, B) don't even know where to begin!

The Paralympic Village is a pretty fascinating place. Hundreds of athletes from all over this continent, all gearing up for the same thing. There is so much pride and strength here. There are flags of each country hung over balconies of appropriate assigned apartments. The US has two assigned apartments that sit adjacent to each other and, even though they are not the tallest nor largest of buildings here, they seem to tower over most.

In the US building next door there is an althlete lounge and clinic, both of which I have been spending a lot of time. In the clinic, my arms have made a new best friend, Brian, who is our Team trainer for this trip. He has been diligent about making sure that my muscles and all surrounding components are up to par leading up to my first race. The Athlete Lounge is a haven of technology in this little village in which I have no cell phone coverage. There in the lounge you can chat it up with friends on the couch will chowing on 'Nilla Wafers, or call home free of charge--thanks to AT&T, catch up on Facebook status updates, or even witness a heated game of poker amongst 4 visually impaired athletes. It's a trip.

We have been traveling to the pool every morning to finish up our taper training. DAY 1 of competition was today; however, I don't swim until Wednesday. We successfully brought home 2 gold medals for tieing an event! The pool is beautiful with subtle reminders of strength and courage hidden within the finely-chiseled walls. The water feels good and it is so awe-inspiring to take a breathe and let your gaze rest somewhere high up in the spectator bleachers.

Last night, we attended Opening Ceremonies where I felt overrun with emotion for this entire experience. My words won't even be able to touch you here. Between surrounding yourself with the cultures and traditions of the other countries; parading into a crowd of thousands cheering, "USA! USA!); being inches away from traditonal Mexican dance and song; and for the first time ever feeling like I had really deserved to be there and really be a part of it all-- it was utterly astounding and brilliant in every sense. I'm just not quite sure how to relay the amount of energy and positivity that came out of being a part of the parade, cheering on Team USA all the while being cheered for as well. There were so many cultural connections that were made among teams-- dancing and photos with the Guatamalans and Brazilians, receiving a Mexican flag during their own procession becoming a part of it all, singing and laughing and cheering with everyone.

Along the same lines, my absolute new obsession for this trip has become the exchange of countries pins--flags and symbols that display cultures and traditions in a little gold-plated pin. It helps to have a swim buddy and roommate that is Latin by birth, and it also helped to have her do your makeup before Opening Ceremonies! As of right now I am currently the proud owner of pins from: Mexico, Brazil, El Salvador, Peru, and Columbia. I'm hoping to hit up the Argentinians and Cubans tomorrow!

That's what I've got for now. Buenas noches amigos.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I Swim Because...

"Why do you swim?" I was asked bluntly the other day.

One would suspect that I had a myriad of colorful answers complete with grandiose hand gestures... but the truth was, I didn't. Perhaps it has become such a part of me that I have trouble recognizing its friendship with me; but whatever the case, I decided that it is probably something very important to answer. So here it is...

I swim because it gives me a sense of my old self.
I swim because I don't have to rely on anything or anyone to do it.
I swim because my legs are free to move any which way they'd like.
I swim because it's the only time I always know what I am doing.
I swim because otherwise it would over take my dreams.
I swim because the dancing water all around me calms my soul.
I swim because I enjoy working my heart out at the wee hours of the morning.
I swim because I have always done it better than any other sport.
I swim because it is the only physical way of projecting my true spirit.
I swim because I owe it to myself to.
I swim because I am too clumsy for land.
I swim because my brain only knows how to breathe in the form of bubbles.
I swim because it's the only way I've ever been able to meditate.
I swim because it reminds me of being 8 years old. 
I swim because the world is silent underwater.
I swim because it makes me feel powerful and full of life.
I swim because I made a promise to myself to try.

In less than two days I part for the biggest swim of my life to date--the ParaPan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Fingers crossed for internet access to document this journey...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Swim A Day Keeps the Doctor Away

'Tis the season for influenza and rhinitis, for the adenovirus and streptococcus. As the weather begins to sharpen its senses and the light of the day fades faster and faster, those little nasty viruses and bacteria start their ultimate invasions in hopes of finding a cozy human home for the winter.

However intended and sneaky, I have managed to fight off millions of these little bugs attempting to take over my very well-being for the past three weeks or so. They ring my doorbell each morning by causing coughing and congestion almost congruent with my 5AM wake-up call. My routine has now started to include a drop of homeopathic immune boosting extract to settle those crazy germs announcing their invasion, typically as I make my way to my morning workout. By the time I am done with practice, I feel good as new--every single day.

This scenario has been the same just about every morning for the past few weeks or so. So, in putting 2 + 2 together, I started to become a rolling informercial for this immune booster stuff. I sold it to a friend, I convinced my mom, and I excited my sister with the notion of virtual recovery within minutes. This was a miracle product, I was so sure of it! In fact, I never even questioned its actual existence or effectiveness, or even the cause of my immediate, daily recoveries. I just thanked the immune booster and then pushed it in the face of everyone in my path sporting a healthy smile on my face.

It wasn't until this week when both mom and sister regrettably explained that the stomach-turning, bitter immune booster wasn't helping AT ALL! How could this be? They must be doing it wrong, or...

Wait?! Retracing my steps, I realized that the immune booster wasn't the only thing that I was doing on a daily basis-- I was also swimming.

And there it was: Swimming.

Swimming was the thing that was keeping me healthy and relatively bug-free each and every day. Breathing deeply as I stroked, circulating fresh oxygen-rich blood throughout my body, and smiling and enjoying every second of it... those are the things that are keeping me well.

And here it is folks, it isn't found in a bottle and it doesn't cost any money. The secret to my health?? It's rather simple: A swim a day keeps the doctor away, no doubt. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Squishy Concrete Thing That Lives Inside of Me

I've been searching for something. This something is more powerful than necessary, more beautiful than disasterous. This something is terribly misunderstood... and it lives inside of me.

Uncovering ones layers can be daunting and terrifying, unleashing monsters swept under beds and skeletal systems hiding among hanging sundresses and neglected dresspants. But in order to move forward to a life that you care to dream about and long for, it is crucial to go straight there. Do not pass "Go!", do not collect $100.

I have known this for quite some time, and not being a complete cloud-dweller, I have known that there are many parts of me that need to surface and be challenged directly in order for me to really be the me that I truly want and can be. It wasn't until very recently that I have even been able to acknowldge; however, the extreme notion that this part of me has played in my life-- often holding me back from my own greatness and keeping my wheels firmly planted in dark, sticky mud.

Through an enormous amount of self-reflection and the courage to try, I have found some things inside of me that I never knew existed. They are sneaky, soft-spoken parts of me that come out without using words and hide beneath every smile. These are the feelings of words that haven't been created yet, which makes them very hard to give them the force and the weight that they really do deserve. These are the feelings that keep me from being me wholly.

These feelings look like a building, like scaffolding. These feelings look like unfinished concrete. These feelings are bold and strong like concrete, yet can be pushed on and tested like jell-o. These feelings dwell deep inside at my core, yet are not a part of my actual body. These feelings cannot move on their own accord. These feelings are dull and gray. These feelings have made home of my soul and have gone completely undetected until just the other day-- when I declared to my heart that I, myself, was strong enough to allow them to surface.

Initially, I was afraid of this squishy, cementy thing and I feared its place in my mind. I was angry and upset for it causing me such pain and sorrow for such a long time. I was relieved when I realized that it didn't have to be this way. I had it wrong all along. I didn't have to find it to destroy it, I know that now. I simply had to find it to embrace it. After all, on some level it has kept me alive for this long-- I suppose it should get some credit for some of it.

So by now, several days have passed. I am just shy of two weeks away from leaving for the ParaPan American Games where I will compete in the most elite event of my life. How am I preparing? By making friends with the squishy concrete thing that lives inside of me. Hmm.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Learn to Love Me More Today

One year ago today I was sitting in a little cafe in San Francisco reveling in my new-found re-love for swimming. 

Munching on a giant walnut sourdough loaf, in quintessential San Fran flare, I remarked to Sar about the meet--my first meet back in the water in over a decade. We laughed about how nervous I was and for what a "big deal, little meet" this was. We joked about my post-taper cravings of Diet Coke and frozen yogurt. We acknowledged having broken four American Records, because previously there had been no such swimmer up to the challenge. We started making memories, not entirely understanding at the time how crucial they were all going to be for my own growth and self-reflection.

That evening, Sar and I met up with an old and dear college friend of mine to celebrate being back in the water. Over a divine balance of drip-droppy sweet, yet titillatingly tangy sangria, the three of us toasted to my accomplishments. I toasted for simply having the guts to try it...

Coming back to Colorado, I landed with a new song in my step and a new groove to my wheel. I had found a bit of confidence that I hadn't previously ever been able to put my finger on long enough to feel. That feeling started everything-- I quickly became and even more devoted 3AM swimmer, creating practices that left an encouraged taste of bile in my mouth. I trained, and trained, and trained. I lifted weights. I practiced yoga and stretching. I bought an ultrasound machine for my screaming muscles. I announced my desire to drop down to a part-time teacher the following year. I went to more swim meets.

And at those swim meets, I continued to gain experience as a competitor. I was gaining so much about myself, not only as a swimmer. I was, for the first time in my life, able to beat down barred up windows to a prior-concealed soul. I was able to uncover a few monsters under my own bed. I began training my insides just as much as my outsides (which I have found to be much harder to accomplish, and far more painful).

In that year, I began to understand that it was about swimming just as much as it wasn't. With every stroke I made, I did so with the greatest of intention and desire to become the most whole, most self-accomplished me I could ever imagine.

It was a long year.

Today, I sit in a little cafe in San Francisco reveling in my ever-growing rebirth for swimming and every uncovered, subtle life lesson in between.

Coming out of my second-ever Santa Clara Disability Meet, I feel much different that the first time around. I feel the weight of my own insecurities and under-bed monsters stronger than ever. But why?, is the real question that I've been gulping down this entire weekend.

In less than a year's time I have accomplished so much. I have broken a total of five American Records, with World Rankings in most of the events that I've swum. I have had the highest honor of becoming a part of the US Team to represent in the ParaPan American Games this coming November. I have done all in my power to spread the meaning behind one's own human effort and giving all that one can to make things real for them. I have joined forces with brilliant women to accomplish the dream of speaking at a TED conference. I have looked at my insecurities with an open heart and made every attempt to make peace with them. I have done a lot.

However, even as I sit here at this smallest cafe on the corner of 18th Street and Dolores, in the Mission District, I cannot help but create dissonant, interfering statements where all of those above periods sit. There isn't anyone else to swim those events. You swam well to get on the US Team, but you can't repeat it. Nobody really understands why you would sacrifice half of your job and most of your money to swim. People see my chair and feel better about themselves without event taking in a single word. You think you deserve this, but really you don't know anything about anything. 

These words, although just a slight example of what those subtle mind-daggers sound like, encapsulate my dream. I know, and I truly do--deep, deep inside of my orangish, circling soul-- that I will NEVER be able to accomplish everything in my heart until I find a way to silence the monsters and demons and naysayers and sheep-wearing wolves in my mind. I have never quite understood why my mind has to be such a bully over my heart, but this is something that I have GOT to take care of before it's over before it begins.

So, for today, I will try to honor my own accomplishments of the past year. I will attempt to raise my own glass (or water bottle) to my own dreams and desires. I will make a promise to myself to take time to find those words that speak to my heart in song, rather than some terrible disconnected cable television.

It is so incredibly embarrassing to know that--without a doubt--that I am the only one responsible for any sort of dissatisfaction in my life. I am the only one holding me back from going under a minute in my 50-backstroke, and I am the only one who is able to fix it.

Well, cheers to me. Bottoms up. Salutations. Congratulations. Salud... I will take this day as the attempted first day of many to pay attention and mind to all of my insecurities and mind-daggers. I promise, I will learn to love me more today.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Speaking of the Heart...

We were up next. The sound guy had secured one of those earpiece-type microphones over and around my ear, and I was feeling more like a Britney Spears wannabe than an inspiring presenter...

My heart felt like I was preparing to compete in a race. So, what did I do? I found a corner and I stretched and swung my arms around just like I would before any swim meet. I knew on the surface that this was a silly technique to public speaking, but it was only going calm my nerves before the start of my race... err, my speech.

My latest journey takes place alongside three other amazing women in the community. We have dubbed ourselves Team AWE (Able Women Empowering), with the hope of being able to really make an impact together. Having similar goals and passions brought us together as a team, but our drive and ambitions are what keep us together.

One of our missions is to help empower others and raise awareness of disabilities and differences in the community. Right away it was clear, we were going to have to be motivational speakers. Lucky for me, that is exactly what I've been dying to be!

In a single chance of fate and email forwarding, we got word that there were applications being accepted to do a local-type TED Talk. Now, if you don't know TED, you should! For a few years now I have been watching presentations on technologies and medicine, hope and inspiration, and education and progressiveness. Every single one of the speakers present with their hearts and project words of determination, knowledge, and passion. I wanted to be one of them.

It wasn't until much more recently, however, that I declared aloud that it was my DREAM to do a TED Talk someday...

Well, that someday was last Wednesday. And with my heart jumping right between my crooked ribs, I did it. I spoke from my heart with my AWE-inspiring team and we even got a standing ovation. (All of which was completely out of my grasp of thinking-- as I sat there wondering, "Man, these people sure do want to leave quickly!")

As I drove home that night in the rain, I smiled the whole way home. I smiled for my dreams and I smiled for my accomplishments. In fact, I smiled a little for me.

 There are no such things as limits to growth, because there are no limits to the human capacity for intelligence, imagination, and wonder. 
 Ronald Reagan 

Saturday, August 13, 2011


A new friend and source of great encouragement asked me today about my training. Not in the how-much-yardage-sense or even in the what-kind-of-sets-do-you-do-sense, but rather in a sense far more meaningful.

He asked me about my DRIVE.

I babbled on about being on bed rest forever and how that made me rethink so many aspects of my life, and most importantly swimming. I continued on a sing-songy path of notions of undone dreams and resurfaced passions. I could have gone on for at least another ten minutes, when he stopped me...

"I'm sure that had an impact. But I know it's something else. Something inside of you that you don't even fully understand that you possess." He uttered so nonchalantly as if my shoe was untied or something.

Given a moment, I recalled the time I spent in the hospital after my initial accident. I often wonder about this time in my life, because so many people ask about it. People want to know about the struggles and deafening blow of realizing that I was going to be paralyzed. What I tell everyone who asks is that it wasn't that way at all for me. I woke up and started working. I started working on strengthening my neck enough to lift my head off the bed. I started working on breathing without a ventilator machine. I started working on sitting in a wheelchair. I started working on pushing a wheelchair. I started working on regaining muscle enough to be able to lift my legs with my own hands.

I started working towards this new life with little mind to what this life would actually be like. There was no dramatic movie-moment of me sobbing and thrashing as the result of learning I'd never walk again. It just didn't happen.

As my new friend pointed out that his thought of my DRIVE being inborn, I was brought back to those very early moments in the hospital. Perhaps he is right, and I should thank him twelve times over and invite him and his family for dinner. Perhaps I should also let that thought into my own brain-- let it swim around for a bit and give my good old confidence a good smack on the lips.

Yes, I think I will just that.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Lot to Say

If you are wondering why I haven't written much lately, it's because I have been writing A LOT lately...

Apparently I am making it official by writing about it on my blog, because up until now, I have been sort of whispering about it from afar. I am writing a book.

Now, I have done this sort of thing before-- said that I was writing a book. After I got back from India I started writing a book, about eight different times. I kept thinking that it should be so easy to take those things that I had put in my blog and make it a book, but it wasn't. I scrapped it every single time and shoved it straight into my trashcan icon on my laptop.

This time is different, however. I can feel that it's different--not only in thought, but in heart, and also in form. I am sticking to it and enjoying every chapter and every word as it comes pouring out of my head and into my fingertips as they translate it into actual print that (hopefully) will be read by smiling eyes someday.

I was hoping to have this endeavor completed by the time I started back up at school in the fall, but that just might not be realistic. Writing is hard, but writing about your own life's struggles and victories is even harder. This book is going to be considered a creative non-fiction in genre, which means that it is based off of my life and I also get to be as colorful and poetic with my words that I want to be. This is a perfect combination for me here.

I am now ten solid chapters and well over 20,000 words deep into this thing and am glad that it is finally happening. This writing and storytelling is so therapeutic and cathartic for me, and I don't think this could happen at a better time for me. Within every chapter, I am uncovering things about myself that I wasn't necessarily aware of or wanted to confront. I am peeling back layers of decades and distractions. I am realizing that some of the most brief moments and encounters have made some of the most lasting effects.

I am realizing that I have a lot to say.

Latest FOX 31 News Segment


Monday, July 11, 2011

Camera Shy Ry

"Smile...smile? Ryan, is everything okay?"
"I am smiling!"
"You look like you just got hit on by the most repulsive man in the world."

Sadly, this is not the first time I've heard this. 

Last week, I had the potential pleasure of getting photographed with my new team as our first publicity shots to use in our media kits and the like. I guess I quickly forget my neuroses of picture taking, that is until that wide-eyed camera is blinking directly in my face. 

The girls were confused at first by my anxiety while I waited for my turn. I gave them the Reader's Digest version of my historical terror with smiling for photographs, but I am still quite certain that nobody really understood. That is, until it was my turn. 

When I was a kid, I used to create smiles of full-teeth and gums, as the outward attempt to show my overall, inward happiness. Isn't that what you are supposed to do? At any rate, that smile stuck and there was simply no turning back nor alterations possible to this frightening smile. 

As I grew up and photos chronicled those moments in time, I became increasingly more and more aware of this "cheesy smile" and less and less excited to show it off. So, I began doing the only thing I could think of: NOT smile. I found ways around it by making funny faces and shying away completely; which has worked for the most part, but now there was no getting out of it. 

However, in a few tortuous minutes the photographer had managed to make me laugh enough to capture those natural images rather than the ones that I had unsuccessfully prefabricated. Thank goodness for good humor and patience. 

Here's the final result:

Not too bad... but I really hope that this will hold me over for awhile...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Steamy Mayonnaisey Paralyzing Parasite

 In all my life and all my dreaming and fantasizing, I never imagined this.

I was hoping to share my experiences from the Olympic Training Center a few days ago, but I truly feel like it has taken me this long just to even process the whole thing.

Going into this training camp and meet, I knew that I had accomplished something and I knew to be proud of my efforts; however, in my typical detrimentally modest fashion I had no clue how BIG this actually was.

It first hit me when I saw tour groups snapping photos of my deer-in-headlights self while attempting to determine my strategy for entry into this pool completely not designed with me in mind. As moments ticked on, I felt glimpses of the intensity of being a member of the US Team for the ParaPan American Games. "You are now here to represent the US," kept buzzing in my ears.

The Team took "classes" on how to handle media requests, packing, and foreign competitors. We learned about the Village that was currently under construction and how Homeland Security would be our new best friends in Guadalajara. We even spent some time peeing in front of people to determine that we were as clean and sound in body as we appeared to be. The entire time, I sat stunned-- most likely resembling something of a codfish-- all the while attempting to keep a cool demeanor about it all. After all, I am the oldest member of this team, so I need to act like it. Right?

The meet was only a portion of these blurred events. Choosing to swim ten events, including the mile, was probably a bit optimistic in hindsight; however, I was glad to push myself through it (now that it's over with). I fared well in my events, although not particularly pleased with any of them. For the most part I felt as if I were swimming in a steamy whirlpool with the consistency of mayonnaise. I hate mayonnaise. My times completely reflected my dissonance with said steamy mayonnaise-- although I know I am stronger and more technically ready than ever before. I still don't know how to rationalize the meet. Stupid steamy mayonnaise.

Truly, I can only blame myself. I suppose the mayonnaise is really just a metaphor for that thing that always gets in the way: my brain.

Watching my competitors walk to the blocks, I couldn't help but wonder what I actually contribute to this team. I try as I might to keep a smile and a ferocious fight; however, once again my lack of confidence in my own capabilities prevailed.

This is starting to become a serious problem.

It feels like a virus that I can't shake. No matter the amount of rest or vitamins (which I am no longer advised to take, thanks to USADA) or protein I provide for my body, I can't seem to recover from this parasitic and paralyzing form within me.

So now it's my turn, really this time, to take care of this. My issues with confidence obviously bleed through in other aspects of my life and I am finally fed up. I don't deserve to live like this and I owe it to myself to take my live-in-paralyzing-parasite-of-a-feeling and smash it to pieces.

So, hear's to you-- steamy mayonnaisey paralyzing parasite-- may you be put to shame and rest in peace, my friend. Goodbye forever.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What's So Scary About Today?

The plan was to get up at 6AM to finish packing. In all my years of setting alarms, I can think of only one other time in which I actually managed that quintessential time-oopsie of setting for PM rather than AM.  My subconscious was probably requesting the additional sleep.

Regardless, I arose at 7:23AM, a little groggy from extending frantic packing late into the night, but refreshed and ready to take on today.

So few people really understand these intense emotions that I have while preparing for this training camp. Words that should make me feel better, reducing the pressure slightly, tend to send me over the edge. I realize that the Jimi Flowers Meet is not a qualifier for anything, and merely timed-finals. I realize that I have made the ParaPan American Games Team and that they aren't going to kick me off of it for no reason. I realize so many things that are rational and true about this experience, but there is so much more to it that is difficult for me to explain.

But nevertheless, I'll TRY...

No matter the meet, big or small, it is no different to me. I will not try any less this weekend than I did at Nationals. I will not treat the meet with any less seriousness or ferociousness. I, wholeheartedly, acknowledge the fact that I am a complete lunatic for signing up for 10 events in two days, but I need to swim as much as possible to give myself the opportunity to improve. If you don't compete in it, you have no chance of improvement.

I need to put my best foot forward, figuratively. I know myself well enough to know that when I am driven by nerves, I tend to shut down socially and crawl into a dark space, deep within my psyche and stay there until I feel safe again. I cannot afford to have this happen. I want my coaches and teammates to see me for who I really am. I want so honestly to be an asset to this team, being one of the--if not the--oldest member. I want to be able to impart certain wisdoms and mindful thinking to those that I interact with most in my professional life, the fifteen-year-olds-- of which there are a ton of. I desire to be an athlete that is as good in the water as out of the water.

Lastly, knocking down the walls of my character is that ever-present notion of confidence. Why can I STILL not shake it? There are voices that swirl inside of me questioning everything. At one point, in fact, I had convinced myself that the Paralympic Committee had made a mistake with me, accidentally put me on the email list and now they felt too bad to tell me the truth. Seriously? With thoughts like these its no wonder how I even manage to function during the day. I have spent the better part of the last two weeks really searching for that confidence-- I know it's in there somewhere. The negativity has so much power, to the point where it steals my breath and attempts to choke me. BUT I know that I am better than that. I know that I deserve this. I know that it is okay to let my hard work pay its own way. (Even writing this, I feel those emotions start churning from deep within, like an impending hurricane, shoving glimpses of the tide upwards through my eyes.) I guess the scariest part of it all is the fact that I am well-aware that the only thing that may hold me back from utter greatness... is me.

However, I am ready to face it. I am. I really think that this week is going to be a true testament to the power my mind has and the urge to collaborate with success. I am ready to move forward and to be able to say that I deserve to be on the US Team and that I AM part of the US Team.

So now I am off to swim, all alone, one last time for the next several days. I will head down to Colorado Springs to check-in in the dorms sometime around 3PM. Once I get settled in, my brain should follow...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In Less Than A Week

In less than a week I will be finished with my first swim meet at the Olympic Training Center.
In less than a week I will be staying in a dorm for the first time in over a decade.
In less than a week I will be quietly nervous, yet soaking it all in.
In less than a week I will swim a mile race for the first time.
In less than a week I will be able to swim in front of family and friends like I had when I was a kid.
In less than a week I will be challenging myself with the continual overwhelming battle of self-confidence.
In less than a week I will know if that strange breaststroke I've been training is working or not.
In less than a week I will absorb all of the coaching and criticism that I have been significantly lacking this whole time.
In less than a week I will meet my team.
In less than a week I will pack suit after suit, all the while dreaming for one that says, "USA".
In less than a week I will put those fears and worries of the unknown behind me, because I will be DOING it.
In less than a week I will have swum 10 events in a 2-day meet.
In less than a week I will take a moment to realize that last year at this time I was on bed rest.
In less than a week I will feel comfortable with the likes of so many amazing, elite athletes.
In less than a week I will know what it feels like to come so far.
In less than a week I will be reminded why I took this leap in the first place, since my checking account tends to remind me otherwise.
In less than a week I will feel proud and inspired and ready to propel forward.
In less than a week I will, once again, find that inner fire that keeps me going and knowing that this is RIGHT.
In less than a week I will be ready.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Changing the Challenge, Challenging the Change

The alarm went off Tuesday morning at 3:15AM for the last time--officially. I am certain there will be others, but just not in the frequency of this last year. That morning was not unlike all the others, however. I still woke with a smile, grunted out an effective streamline stretch, and acknowledged that I am still NOT on bed rest.

As I drove to the pool, I did so with a fair amount of excitement about it being the last, but also a little fear and sadness of its finale. I believe that this schedule has truly played an enormous role in my confidence level over the past several months. Virtually EVERYONE has something to say about 4AM workouts, and that alone has made me feel like a strong, motivated, challenged, and deserving competitor.

I will miss those early mornings for the camaraderie of those crazy enough to join me, for the pride knowing that I was well accomplished physically every morning before most people even get out of bed, and for the challenge of telling myself that I could do it every single day.

Perhaps I will just have to find a new way to challenge myself and to seek that radiant confidence that is found most readily in doing rather than thinking.

So far this week has been about recovery from those moments, but also discovery of new ones to come. I am anxiously awaiting new moments of joy and pain and sunshine and rain-- to quote some guys that became the face of unseen voices once upon a time ago.

Nonetheless, I am taking my time to soak in all of the emotion that goes along with the training and looking forward nervously to the preparation of Parapan Am Training Camp soon to take place near the end of June. Looking forward, yet covering my eyes with one hand in fear of those unknown and complicated emotions connected to competition.

My hands can't seem to hide nor console, but that is exactly how it should be. And THIS is exactly how I should feel.

I have never been so nervous and full of anxious fear... yet so extremely happy and fulfilled.

This is exactly what life is all about. Accepting challenges and altering your experience based upon that. Seeking out new challenges when old ones aren't as affective or desired anymore. Living for the challenge of today and hoping for another tomorrow.

I am ready to take on these new challenges and face my fears of moving forward. I live for the challenges that make me feel vulnerable and awkward and uncomfortable-- because those are all emotions that are raw and, more importantly, true. Those emotions, catalyzed simply by the challenge, create more of a life for me than I could have ever imagined on my own.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Subtle Sacrifices for Success

With the school year winding down, not only does an influx of worry about failing children, creating 150-question biology finals, and getting all my $70 textbooks back; but I now have an additional worry that has crept in. Currently, it is sort of hard for me to call it such--seeing as I chose this for myself, but nonetheless deciding to drop down to a part-time biology and anatomy teacher next year has added a new and strange layer to this end-of-the-year stress.

I am choosing to be a part-time teacher so that I can concentrate on being a full-time athlete, and potentially start doing some motivational speeches of sort as well as work on developing a disabled women athlete team of my own. I am extremely excited to have these opportunities and the childlike mind to make decisions like these for myself. I have never been a very good adult in the sense of money nor obligation, so this choice was made even more easy by the amazing support presented by my cohorts and administrators at school.

However scary it may seem, I know that I am making the right choice. In fact, once it was finalized, rather than be bombarded by anxiety and butterflies, I surprisingly felt empowered and confident in not only my swimming abilities, but in all my abilities.

So here I sit attempting to figure out how to make up the 40% pay cut for next year. No worries though, I have a plan, or 15! Here's a list of subtle sacrifices I am willing to make beginning NOW:
1. Television that doesn't come from the internet
2. Heating my house with a thermostat
3. Frozen yogurt... well, at least frequent frozen yogurt
4. Random road trips
5. Just-because-you-are-so-stinkin'-cute gifts for my niece
6. The thought of ever getting gutters or painting my house
7. Getting fancy-esque haircuts
8. Any groceries that aren't a "Sooper Card value"
9. On that same note, Whole Foods at all
10. Automobile air-conditioning
11.Getting my bicycle and racing chair tuned this summer
12. Trash service once a week
13. Printing out potential sponsorship letters in colored ink
14.Showers at home... which (sadly) shouldn't be that much of a sacrifice
15. The infamous Grande Soy Latte

There are more, and there will be many more I'm sure... but I have never been so excited to cut out so much stability and comfort out of my life as I am today!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Some People

I can't shake it. I know that it doesn't matter what one person said or thinks about my current quest, but I just can't help but allow that negativity to ooze its way in and attempt permanent residence in my cerebrum. Stupid human nature.

When asked about my swimming, it is very typical that my eyes will achieve a brilliant sparkle, reminiscent of the pool itself. Most likely, my tone will increase a few octaves in excitement and my aura will start to sing--at least that is how it all feels. I feel so alive sharing my dreams with others. I feel so blessed to express my experiences in words and gestures and have others recognize those feelings in my heart. However, I didn't realize until now that not everyone shares my same zest for swimming, nor competition, nor following passions, nor living out dreams.

The decrescendo of my elation was direct effect to the blatant discredit of my dream. In the middle of explaining my pride for making the US Parapan Am Team and the added bonus of having some gear and costs provided by the US Paralympic Team, that negativity put a direct stop to step: "I wish someone would pay me to do my hobby!"

Whoa. I was immediately crushed. I didn't realize that the word "hobby" could have such a discredited connotation. Stopped my voice, stopped my sparkle, stopped my heart... for a second.

Quickly, I was forced back into my own reality--the one I prefer-- and I am lucky to have not been able to escape it for long. My reality tells me that my quest is important. Not only for myself, but for those that need to see that it's okay to believe in yourself. Even though I am still stuck on these words and this comment, I know that there isn't anything I could ever do to make some people understand. People that don't understand would never want the life I have set for myself anyway. People that don't understand won't necessarily fund my next swim trip or cheer at my next race, but I definitely know many more that will.

Where I am right now is due, in part, to those who have held me up to the standard of independence and strength, to grace and will, and to love and resilience. Where I am right in this very moment is a place of much joy and pride and, even though I can't make some people feel or understand, I can continue to sparkle and smile and try my very hardest for the rest of the world, myself included.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Registration Recognition

I'm not sure about the other athletes, but this is a big deal to me. For the most part, the majority of the other 24 athletes that made the Parapan Am Team are used to this. They have done this before. Some, I suspect, were even unhappy that they didn't make a better selection team. However, for me, this is beyond what I ever thought imaginable for myself.

In order to officially be a part of the team, each one of us is to register online with the USOC directly for the event. Being the neurotic and carefully planned out soul that I am, I had to get it done quick. Am I worried that they are going to reject my team nomination? Perhaps. Am I concerned that it is more involved than it appears and it will actually take me going to get a new passport or searching for a notary or participating in a scavenger hunt of sorts for specific signatures? Maybe. The safest bet is that I am just neurotic and like things done as soon as I can muster the energy to do them. Otherwise, who knows what could happen, right?!

So as it was, I spent no less than five hours trying to finagle the exact dimensions of a required head shot photo. No smile. White background. 50-512 kB. 35mm x 45mm.... Students couldn't help me, Kinko's couldn't help me; so I spent the better half of my days after school last week cursing at my computer screen. Once that was finally set, I sat down at a cafe to complete the rest.

Much to my chagrin, I had forgotten to figure out my physical measurements in the privacy of my own home. So, with measuring tape in hand, I proceeded to measure hips and waist and inseam and sleeve length and chest right there, sitting at the local Starbucks. Measurements in tow, I was now completely and finally ready.

The whole registration process was supposed to take about half an hour, so said the directions. It took me well over two, no surprise. I wanted to be precise. I wanted to make sure that I made no errors-- especially since I am extremely prone to such specifically when one is NOT supposed to make errors (ie. flight bookings). I wanted to make sure that my answers were the best possible reflection of who I am as a swimmer and as an individual.

Questions ranged from high school accolades to superstitions. I wrote out family contacts and history. I typed up answers about what makes me unique. I produced lists of music that I listen to and facts that no one knows about me.

The most remarkable part about this entire registration process, was surprisingly not the fact that it was so thorough nor random; but rather the fact that I kept encouraging and reminding myself that this is the biggest thing that I have ever known for me thus far.

It is big, not in the sense of competition or even sport, but for the sense that 10 months ago I made a promise to myself to try my best and enjoy the ride. There I sat, at a little cafe table covered in paperwork, my laptop, a giant latte drink, inconspicuous measuring tape, and a smile registering for a event that displays with undoubted clarity, the amount of work and care and love that I have put into this part of my life for the past 10 months.

I still remember that day that I made that promise to myself. I was making secret trips to swim while on doctor prescribed bed rest. Swimming was the only thing that could fill my heart at that point and, for the first time ever, my brain recognized it too...

Friday, April 15, 2011


You wouldn't know it's been almost a week since my Nationals meet. My shoulders are still reminding me of every single second of it. However, the clothes on my bedroom floor are reminding me to get back to work and back to the "real" world. But what is that?

I now realize that I have been living a dual existence for several months now: socially-awkward biology teacher by day, while something entirely different at other times both before dawn and dusk alike.

My training is slowly creating its own persona. At the gym, I am commented upon on a regular basis... the hours that I spend in the pool, the ever-growing size of my biceps (when will that stop?!), the insane amount of gear that I carry... Although, I am happy to announce that I don't believe a single word of it.

One thing that is getting increasingly hard though is coming back. Coming back to a daily routine and leaving behind the excitement of the competition surprisingly leaves holes and aches in my heart-- a feeling that I have only known once before, when leaving India. My heart is telling me that this is something important, this is something to hold on to.

This week has been a whirlwind. I have spent most of it nursing my shoulders, forearms, and hands. I have listened to their woes and rocked them to sleep at night. Beyond that, I have spent a lot of time in my head. I have been bantering with myself about the importance/unimportance of me making a selection team.

See, the National meet also doubled as a selection meet for both the Parapan/Am Games as well as the Parapan/Pac Meet, and I was trying desperately to forget about that. However, my innate neuroses led my fingers to my keyboard no less than 200 times per day, checking for any sort of indication or update that the list was out. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore--so Thursday morning, before I even had a chance to say "good morning" to the sun, I was cycling back and forth in my aquatic haven when I ultimately decided that I was not going to make a select team and that was completely okay. Fine. Done.

Flash-forward 6 hours to me scarfing my favorite of microwaved burritos while taking that 8 minutes alloted in my day to actually take in a mindful breath, when my inbox dinged at me the way a petite cartoon mouse's doorbell would. I could barely look with both eyes.

After giving myself the necessary encouragement to even open the email, I did it and held onto my breath tightly. In typical form, I--no doubt--was playing off of a lack of confidence the entire time; because, lo and behold, the email title was, "2011 Parapan American Team Nominees."

I scrolled down with eyes and cursor, skimming words like, "congratulations" and "training camp" and even another "CONGRATULATIONS"... though I was still in disbelief. A mistake? A rude mass email that goes to all athletes?


I made the team.

In 7 months I have coached myself the best way that I know how and apparently someone else noticed. In 7 months I have turned a love for swimming into a LOVE for swimming. In 7 months I have transformed and created a powerful competitor that can't wait to continue to try.

So, patting my shoulders and sending them care, I start training for the biggest thing I have ever known. The Parapan/Am Games will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico in November. They are estimating nearly 140 athletes from the US to compete in 13 different sports for their country, and I will be one of them.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Loving Every Second of It

Think of the most simple, yet powerful emotion that you can muster... something so full of life and energy, but has the capacity to be shared by all and through all. It's really not as tough as it seems. 


I recognized this as I was warming up for my 50 backstroke final on Friday night. I was searching high and low, between the sulci and crevasses of my brain, and realized in one earth-shattering synapse, that it all lies in the realm of love.

Love is something that is earnest, it is pure. Love can conquer all, at least according to most current pop songs on the radio. Love can exist and should exist for everyone. John Lennon understood it. I'm pretty sure even that crotchety old man that cut in front of you in line knew it at one time too.

Love is, undoubtedly, the most powerful emotion that anyone can get captured in. It causes us to lose sight of our surroundings and even causes us to ignore ourselves. Love can rage wars and usurp liberties. 

And so it was LOVE that I found in the warm-up session that Friday night. 

I was terribly worried about not understanding how to sprint. It had to be quick and well-planned, without utilizing much thought in the actual moment of it all. It had to be controlled, yet fierce. It had to be real. 

As I searched through my Rolodex of emotions, I quickly realized that it was much more simple than I was trying to make it. I was attempting mathematical calculations to try to understand the sprint, when all I really had to do was understand how much I truly LOVE it.

I love the way swimming puts me in an underwater world in which it is only my breath and body making rhythmic sounds. I love how swimming pushes my muscles to their exhausted limits. I love how swimming has become an example for understanding the power of the human effort. I love the way that swimming takes me away from my wheels and my mind for moments at a time. I love how I can connect with my whole body underwater. 

And with that, I swam my sprint with nothing but pure love

As it turns out, I took off nearly 6 seconds from that morning's race simply just by loving every second of it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

In the Company of Competition

So far, this meet has  influenced me to think a lot about the nature of COMPETITION. I am learning as the events are swum that my idea of competition may be far different from many, many others'.

To me, competition is about being the best that YOU can be. It is about preparing and finding your own way into the "zone". Competition is developed through a pure motivation that involves YOU, and YOU alone. There is no sense of desiring to beat anyone. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as anyone else.

This is what I have always felt about competition.

But being here, at this Nationals meet, I am surrounded by many people who are not only very interested in MY swimming, but are well educated on my status as well. It is strange to be focusing on your next race, mentally preparing your brain to do the work that your body knows, only to get interrupted in the distance by a coach explaining to her swimmer how I swim that event. It is also strange to see another swimmer and coach sit at the end of my warm-up lane, observing intently with little chatter. One can only speculate, but in that speculation, these observers became my own spectators.

For whatever the reason, there are many competitors that set their sights beyond their own competition. They make goals to beat certain swimmers, friends even, and that becomes their spark of motivation. I am having a very hard time understanding these notions, and while I am good at tucking them away and focusing on myself, I can't help but wonder WHY...

Monday, April 4, 2011

In Pursuit of A Superhero

In a town that had no story and certainly no song, the color had drained from all life and a sense of helplessness and uncertainty lingered alongside stench and garbage. This town was desperate for some good luck, or a paint job, or a savior, or a change. This town, with no story nor song, needed something or someone to fix it, because--by the looks of things--there was little hope that the town would make it much longer on its own.

This town needed a superhero.

This town needed someone to fly in on a parade of hope and swoop down into the crowd showering onlookers with smiles and chocolate bars. The superhero would be strong and brave, willing to knock some sense in any troublemaker and ship them far, far away from this Neverland. The superhero would also be kind and charismatic; with one single graceful effort of plucking a misguided kitten from a tree and sharing hot jasmine tea with the mayor. The superhero would be highly regarded by all and would seem never the wiser. And this superhero would bring the color back to this poor, forsaken town.

But, we may live a lifetime without seeing that flowing cape or the smile of that fated superhero that was going to save everything. What a lovely thought to have a superhero swoop down and shower me with love and chocolates and rescued kittens.

However lovely it may seem, it is wrong to hope for something or someone else to make your life more special or defined or fragrant or meaningful. Both the problem and the solution lie within one's self.

I am my own superhero. I have learned, in just a few short months, that I can be strong and charismatic and graceful and confident. I am completely capable of taking a stinky old town and making it beautiful and happy once again. I am also capable of transforming dreams into goals, and goals into accomplishments, and accomplishments into even more dreams to come.

I am my own superhero. I don't need anyone else to come and save me or my kitten. I am ready for any obstacle or roadblock that may cross my path, for I have powers that, I now know, created that very path in the first place.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Am Ready...

One week from today I will be in Minneapolis swimming my little heart out. If I haven't really mentioned it yet, it is probably because I have been too extremely focused on this task at hand, ironically enough, to write about it.

The event is the Can/Am National Para Swim Meet, and from what I can gather, much like the last Can/Am meet but with an increased "nerve factor". This meet will also provide as a qualifier for both the Pan/Pac and Para Pan Games held later this year. My results will directly result in whether or not the US will take me with them. No pressure, right?! Ahh!

At any rate, I am feeling much more prepared this time around. That's all that any of this is anyhow: practice. The main event is yet to come.

I have been practicing my muscles to utter exhaustion and am proud of that. I have never given up, not once. I wake each morning at 3:15 with a smile and the math to figure my sets for the day. I have diligently compiled the most awesome of awesomes in terms of music playlists. I have read books and created visualizations for myself. I have reminded myself that I AM prepared.

So here it goes. I am currently tapering down my workouts and paying special attention to my body. I am constantly fueling and refueling. I drink my weight in water daily. I say no to perfect scoops of ice cream and the rest of those pesky refined sugars. I search for confidence where ever I can imagine it. I soak in the sunlight and pool water as if it were a gift from the Universe to me.

I am ready... finally.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Goal Can Make You FLY!

Goal-setting is crucial for creating progress in one's life, just as seeking out a challenge creates these such opportunities.

It has been a well-known fact of my lack-of-hip-function-body, that swimming butterfly is simply just not an option. In my 14 years post, I had little hope of ever being that "fly swimmer" that I once used to be and almost forgot about it entirely.

That is, until I needed a new hurdle in my swim journey.

After my meet in December, actually we hadn't even left Toronto before I consciously decided that I wanted to be able to swim fly in the next meet. So, it was decided and now the training had a clearer focus. I have been training with this goal in mind since, some days with great hope and encouragement, and others with the notion that I had completely lost my sanity in making such a pronounced statement for a goal.

Now, I realize that this may not seem like much of a goal or challenge to some, but to me it represents so much more. Being able to complete the fly opens my mind up to more confidence than I could have ever imagined before. Like literally being able to fly; this concept had always been so far from my reach, almost to the distance of Jupiter, I had no clear sight of it at all. However, putting that very idea in my frontal lobe and churning and yearning for it--even dreaming about it--I have found that all things can be possible.

On a daily basis, I attempt with great gusto to be the example of what could come from a little human effort. Getting up at 3AM makes sense when you think in this manner. BUT, for some reason, with all of my training day-in and day-out I hadn't gotten the guts to try a whole 50 fly (the exact length that I would need to complete for my meet in 2 weeks!) I am not sure if it was more about the risk of failure or the feeling of failure itself, but for whatever reason, it was far more powerful than actually trying.

I realized this yesterday as I returned to the pool for the second time that day--which has been my routine for the past month. Throughout my entire workout, this nagging sense of disappointment repeatedly piped in at every wall stating, "You've just got to TRY! You owe it to yourself"

So, I finished up my workout and yelled out a mental, "Ready? Set...GO!" and gave it that TRY.

And... I did it. It was slow, but strong and I am sure that there was a smile on my face the entire time. My body had known it all along. I was physically capable. I had trained over and over again and prepared my body for its challenge. Again, it was my own lack of self-confidence and pre-programmed doubt that had led me astray.

Today, I am so proud to say that I did it. And I will continue to do it. This milestone is slight and small in presence, but ever so impacting in the overall journey that I am on.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

These Are the People

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Sportswomen of the Year banquet honoring female athletes all over the state of Colorado. There were dozens of sports represented and a variety of women ranging a complete spectrum of ages. However, it was the three para athletes, and me tagging along, who--in my eyes-- stood out in the crowd with the most courage, strength, and motivation to be there.

To be an athlete is hard enough. You must be equal parts disciplined and determined. You must be willing to make sacrifices for your sport. You must believe in yourself above everything else. You must be willing to try.

For that alone, athletes of all kinds are inspiring; but I now know that the athletes that I most admire are those involved in para sports or disabled sports or adaptive sports or whatever you want to call it. These people are athletes above athletes.

These are the people that have overcome obstacles that most people can't even imagine.

These are the people that take their health very seriously and with one step at a time. These people know all too well that, at any moment, their sport could give way to their health, or lack there of.

These are the people that are forced to start at a level below the norm and exceed so far beyond it that it is, from then on, forever out of sight.

These are the people that keep the world remembering that there are limitless possibilities to what a human being can REALLY do.

These are the people that get out of bed every morning with a smile, because they know what it feels like to not be able to.

These are the people that, while simply striving to be normal and ordinary, raced much further and became extraordinary in their own right.

These are the people that give every ounce of all that they have, because they have to. They have spent so much time trying to compensate for something that they have lost or something that they may have never had; that without this struggle, would never have been able to put their WHOLE self into it.

These are the people that smile in the face of troubles and woes, and react with grace and fervor to every complication thrown their way.

These are the people that, without them, the world wouldn't be able to recognize a true hero.

These are the people that I strive to be in every single moment of every single day, because I can...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Dialog of "Can't"s

A few nights ago while coaching practice, I came across a very disgruntled and mood-struck preteen swimmer. Somehow this brief interaction stuck with me. I think that it may have been far more important and metaphoric than I was willing to admit at the time. It all went something like this...

Preteen Swimmer: "I'm not going to do that. I can't--cannot." (She says as a way of evading the noted dime that was agreed upon for using the word can't in practice.)
Me: "You're up... go!"
Preteen Swimmer: "But I can't!" as she pushed off the wall to attempt that infamous set of underwater dolphin kick on her back. She was most upset about getting water up her nose every single time.

Once she returned back at the wall, she had developed some ammunition--no doubt, from the combination of the two laps of swimming she had just done and that downward spiral that she was headed quickly for.

Me: "Five seconds, get ready..."
Preteen Swimmer: "No! I'm NOT doing it!"
Me: "Go!" And she went, most likely trailed by a rain cloud and look of disgust as she blew not-so-fierce bubbles which lacked the necessary gusto to keep the water out of her sinuses.

After this, I knew that I had pushed her hard enough and now it was time for a lesson. Little did I know that this lesson would apply to me as well.

Me: "Okay Preteen Swimmer, I understand that you don't think that you can do this set. I get that. I really do. There are so many times in life where you doubt your talents, but the important thing is to find the courage simply to try."

Wow. Was that a famous quote? How did I get so smart? Remember that...

Preteen Swimmer just nodded, and almost with a smile pushed off the wall simply to try again.

She completed the set, not perfectly and not without getting water up her nose; however something had changed completely within her. She now saw the set for what it truly was: a challenge. It was no longer a punishment or a way to self-ridicule. She now saw promise in her abilities, both mentally and physically. She, more importantly, saw the promise of those two identities melting into one. For the first time, Preteen Swimmer and I were one in the same. At the same moment, we both encountered the realization of infinite self-capacities and the endless opportunities that lay ahead when understanding the weight of such power.

We both left practice that night with a new smile and a new lesson.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Asking For Starlight

Asking for things like help or attention has never been something that I have done well or done often. For some reason, in my growing up I equated asking for things as weakness or selfishness or irresponsibly. I remember many a painful birthday of overflowing gifts and back-to-school shopping sessions with Grandma that left me so uncomfortable and upset.

For those who know me well, they would tell you that this trait, as admirable as it may seem, is present to quite a striking fault.

However, lately in my pursuit to be the best swimmer/human being I can muster, I have learned to overcome quite a bit in this arena. From asking for swim gear to requesting flight donations to adjusting my teaching schedule, I have been my own best advocate.

Everyone is wonderful in their support of my endeavors. Both Speedo and Out of Breath Sports have willingly (and encouragingly) offered up all of the equipment I could ever need for my training. Continental Airlines graciously waived their $300 ticket change fee to allow me to get to my meet in time-- seeing as I had previously accidentally and regretfully booked the wrong flight. School has welcomed my desire and need to focus on my training and overall goals in the not-so-distant-future. I never realized that asking for things could be so easy!

I suppose when you are asking for the RIGHT things, for those things that have the potential to make a change in someone's life and provide with the possibilities of stars in the sky, people feel it and respond to it with shooting stars.

I am feeling that brightness.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Coaching the Coach

I have always identified with being a coach, or at least to say since I have identified with wheelchairs and accidents and other things that I have grown to know so well over the last 14 years.

Becoming a coach initially started as a way to keep me a part of my summer club swim team. Nobody expected that I would actually be able to swim after my accident, except for me. Call it inspiration, I call it naiveté; but whatever the case, as the story goes, the day that I was discharged from the hospital after my accident, I asked to be taken to the pool to swim and coach above every other place I could have possibly desired. From there it was history.

I spent a little over ten years coaching that team and, while not knowing it at the time, grooming myself for other coaching endeavors. That coaching bug had bit me hard, so hard in fact, that I itched and yearned for it to become a more permanent, less seasonal part of my existence.

From there I learned how to coach high school athletes which soon translated in learning how to TEACH high school students. Once I finally step foot in the classroom, I was sure somebody had kept a really good secret from me: Coaching is nearly exactly like teaching!

And then we fast-forward to today. I have completed a circle of sorts, going back to age group coaching for a year-round club team. Wait. All of this history is lovely, yet not my point at all…

I have a lot of coaching experience. I have never questioned my abilities as a coach, even when I took on the most difficult swimmer of my entire career: me. Coaching myself has been fairly easy--delightful even at times--but a mild disconnect has definitely developed between my own coaching and my own swimming, besides that obvious lack of a proper physical view of my whole body. This disconnect has been far more internal and far less about the physical sport at all.

It wasn’t until just recently that it became clear. With a giant gulp of modesty being forced toward the pit of my gut, I realized that it was, indeed, the fact that I have never coached an athlete of this caliber before. I have never coached an athlete to this rigor and muscle-tearing determination. I have never been on deck with the likes of World Ranked athletes and their counterpart coaches. I have never known what the drive of wanting the best looks like.

Until now.

I am proud to say that my coaching skills aren’t quite refined enough for the sort of athlete I strive to be. But I carry on just the same. My willful attitude as a swimmer is rubbing off on my uncharted coaching. I am going to make it. I am going to take hold and grab my pursuits and dreams. I am going to do this as swimmer, as coach, as one in the same.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Things I Used To Bother About

1. Hanging laundry
2. Finding time to watch my favorite TV show
3. What to do on a Friday night
4. My missing box of contacts--where did I put them?
5. Washing my car
6. Scary skin issues
7. Getting to school on time--rather than strolling in 20 minutes late with wet hair EVERYDAY
8. Carbohydrates
9. Driving in snow and ice
10. Wondering if I could have done more
11. Wearing sweat pants every single day
12. Living a long and happy life
13. How I could possibly leave my front door open all day long--and how I neglected to notice
14. If anyone could hear me
15. Buying yet another new swimsuit
16. Knowingly not drinking enough water--definitely NOT the case anymore
17. Making sure 15 year olds understand completely each phase of mitosis
18. Missing something
19. Being the slowest one in the pool
20. Not giving it my all

Honestly, I could probably go on much further; perhaps even into triple-digits--but the point has been made. I realized this today in what should have been a rushed and hurried lunch hour of copy-making, inhaling mediocre meals in boxes, filling out paperwork, chatting it up with teenagers and their woes, and returning long overdue emails; this SHOULD be stressful. This USED to be stressful. So what has changed?

The circumstances haven't changed. The story plays out the same every year, ask any teacher. The difference, I have found, is the contentment in my very own being.

Those things that I used to bother with have seemed to dilute into my own chlorine heaven. I don't notice little annoyances as easily. I don't feel that warp-speed pressure of my daily routine. I take time in every moment I see fit to relish in things like blinding sunshine and toddler laughter and a perfectly proportioned soy latte and the eager sound of a familiar voice on the other end of the phone.

I truly believe that for the first time in my life I am actually LIVING the life that I have always thought was possible. Aside from those things and events and tangible aspects, my heart feels full and excited for each moment it continues to cycle blood and life throughout every inch of my body. It's so funny, because I think I have always been searching for a specific event to create this contentment, but perhaps I was searching too far away from my own soul.

As we all know, the things that are most important aren't things... in fact, they are feelings. I can't guarantee the culprit of these feelings or the change in my heart, but I do hope it to be quite catching and extremely contagious. For even though I am sitting alone, eating alone, with what should be bed-head, but isn't and what should be pajamas and what aren't; I am eager and prideful for this moment and all those to come.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Am Who I Am: Fourteen Years in the Making

One of the most fascinating and rewarding parts of life is that it is, in fact, ever-changing. Moments of quick prediction is NOT what life is all about. Life is about the twists and turns, it's about the unforeseen and ridiculous. Life is about the things that jolt and surprise you. Life is made up of all of these things, and feeling each one of them reassures your own existence.

Fourteen years ago I didn't realize this. Fourteen years ago I was naive and small.

But because of the unforeseen, because of those jolts and turns, I am here today-- and I am ever so proud of that.

I am who I am because of all of these unexpected moments that have shaped me. Some fortunate, like gaining recognition from those you mentor, teach, or coach--some very much less than. Whatever the case may be, I am thankful for all of these moments... for none of which I could have LIVED without.

My journey in swimming is the metaphor for all of this, and I hope it to continue to be so. One day, I hope to share this journey to those who know nothing about swimming but still appreciate and grow from the statement nonetheless.

Fourteen years ago, I laughed and played and understood none of it. Today, I laugh and play and understand that it's not to be understood. So long as each moment becomes a lesson and each lesson becomes an opportunity to share and teach, I will continue to thrive and grow and love.

I am who I am because of the past fourteen years. I owe it all to the tragedy that gave me the will to love life and those subtle reminders since.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Training Confidence & Chasing Rainbows

When asked last week by a group of students during a club meeting, "What makes a good leader?" I came up with several quick, deserving responses but was told to pick only five. As I pondered in front of the once-stark whiteboard, but now covered in colorful responses of various handwriting and font, I repeatedly got stuck on one subtle word.


After the activity of displaying and explaining words, we were all asked to choose one word that MOST represents a leader, and for whatever reason, out of all of the passions and responsibilities and visions and motivations... I chose confidence.

Now, I didn't or do not necessarily think that it is truly confidence that is most crucial when painting the picture of a good leader, but I DO think that it is the characteristic that I recurrently possess the fewest molecules for.

I don't recall where my disengagement with confidence started, I just know that it is deeply rooted keeping me from moving forward...or moving in any direction for that matter. However, in the last six months I have experienced many blue-flamed successes-- the ones that burn low and subtle, but extremely hot and lasting. These experiences have brought me to acknowledge both aspects about my physical willingness as well as my strong mental stature. In fact, sitting here, writing THIS feels sort of funny.

Having never been the first--or even the last or any in between--to offer up praise for my own accomplishments, this sudden awareness to do so is breathtaking. And not breathtaking, in an, "Oh! How beautiful" sort of way, but rather more like, "Yikes, I could just crawl out of my own skin from the discomfort of it all!"

But yet, I pull through. I pull forward and I tell myself that it is alright to be proud, and to share that with others. This pride and contentment that I feel makes a rainbow to and from my heart, glowing straight above in vertical distance, all the way beyond the stars. This rainbow is made up of first place races and difficult training sets. It is made of local sports awards and news features. It is made of proving that the power of the human effort is unyielding. It is made of the creation of hope and motivation in others. Able to be viewed by all, yet completely uncatchable, this rainbow is all my own.

The confidence that I presented on the whiteboard last week, may still be something of longing; however, at this point I feel far less frightened for it and far more aware of its existence.

The rainbow doesn't have to wait for rain to create majestic color spectra overhead; it just needs enough room to project those profoundly uplifting moments and emotions of the heart.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Sweet Treat

One of the sweetest treats that life offers up is the knowledge that surprise events can occur and will occur when least expected that can change your outlook and feelings about nearly everything.

Today I experienced one of those treats.

Shortly after the bell dismissed my final class for the day, I began cleaning up my classroom to get ready for a parent/student meeting prompted by one of my spunkiest and sweetest red-headed kiddos. The nature of this meeting was sort of unclear, seeing as typically these types of interactions are reserved for students who are neither excelling nor engaging, but this kid was undoubtedly both.

Interrupted in thought of what I could have done wrong in teaching this young mind, in walks nearly half of the science department. They inform me of a department meeting in my classroom that I had apparently failed to notice nor attend if it weren't for the fact that it was being held in my own classroom. But what about my parent/student meeting??? How was I going to pull both of these things off at the same time??

It was less than a minute more before I had my answer. In walks the school principal, carrying a beautiful arrangement of every kind of fragrant floral stalk that you could imagine. With principal as conductor, news crew and other clearly notable individuals come pouring into my classroom, along with none other than my spunky red-head.

"But I am supposed to have a parent meeting?" Was all that I could say as I was handed the framed letter stating none other than my own name as 2011 Colorado Sportswoman of the Year in Swimming.

What is most remarkable about this whole thing is, that embedded deep within my swimming, I have all along hoped to be projecting an example to those around me. An example of hope and confidence and belief and courage and determination and passion-- all the while I never actually believed that any of this was seen from anywhere beyond my own imagination.

I was wrong and I am terribly proud of that.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MY Vision (Board)

Both my intuition, and my copious amounts of research, have told me that it is far easier to accomplish a goal if it is staring you in the face. The goal can be convoluted and winding, but it MUST be visually present.

Now, I have never been so much the type to display my accomplishments, so thinking about displaying my desired accomplishments almost left me feeling ill. However, it is all part of this journey and this process to really put my full-self into my project... so that is EXACTLY what I did.

Through cutting and pasting and printing and wishing I have successfully created my very own vision board.
A vision board is a tangible state of logic that is based off of the notion of the Laws of Attraction-- meaning that what ever you want out of the world, you need to put into it first. Based on this concept as well as various other self-help projects, came the birth of the vision board. This board is the very place to display your dreams and desires, and to project your goals and hopeful plans.

This board is the very place to display MY dreams and desires, and to project MY goals and hopeful plans.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Attempts to Share with the World

One of my greatest goals and drives in this world is my desire to share what I have learned and reflected upon to all that is willing to listen. In order to do this, I have learned that I have to be the one to jump out there and shove some of this knowledge at people using combinations of text and spoken word to get the job done.

Here is my latest attempt at sharing with the world:
The Power of Human Effort

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Swimming Is Good For My Soul

By far, the biggest worry that my brain endures is that of my health. That's why when I officially had a surgery for no good reason, I was fairly upset with myself. It would be one thing if I was having surgery on a part of my body that good readily respond to pain through intricate communication with my brain, but alas my knee, and my whole leg for that matter, keeps relatively quiet in that regard.

It was three days before I would even peek through the bandages at the damages done from the hammering and drilling surgeon. It wasn't so bad---some residual swelling and bruising and such, however it made my stomach churn simply because I couldn't feel it. Strange? I know.

Yesterday I was cleared to get my knee wet by way of a shower. I had been showering with my leg hanging out of the tub previously. I am cleared to get back in the pool on Tuesday, but my brain and body just could not wait another day.

I woke up this morning with a stiff and shooting sore neck. My elbow hurt and my dreams of swimming laps were telling me that it was time. Good thing that the previous night I had already made a special trip to Walgreens to load up on waterproof wound dressings.

So, doubling up on the waterproof bandages I headed to the pool with a crick in my neck and a smile on my face.

I can't believe how much my life revolves around swimming right now. I feel almost pathetic the way that my friends have slowly stopped calling, my bedsheets smell like chlorine, and my bedtime is faithfully 8pm. However, there is something so powerful about all of this. I have found a confidence that has been hiding for years. I am excited to see where this journey takes me and I am actually starting to believe that I still have a long road ahead, which I am equally proud and grateful for.

All that I know is that swimming is good for my soul.