Thursday, June 21, 2012

Something Very Good Is Happening

Sometimes you feel as though you've left something behind-- a lingering, longing for a piece of you that may have been unwillingly let go. Other times you may feel as though you found something-- a new insight or idea, or even just a new breath is enough to create something of purpose that wasn't quite there before.

Throughout my lifetime, I have experienced both. Dipping my foot and feeling the soak of moments and experience that will ripple along with the movement of life. However, I can't say that I have ever had BOTH of these feelings at the same time, until now.

One of the most vivid recollections of that left-behind-feeling had to have been on the flight home from India. It was apparent, even as the seat belt sign was still on, that I had taken off and said an invisible farewell to a part of myself at the gate. This feeling continued to find its way into my gut as I started to compete again. Soon after the competition ended and the adrenaline of the meet was settled, a sinking sort of ache was left in the place of the piece of me that I gave away to the experience.

Over the last two years, I have actually grown rather accustomed to that feeling of leaving something behind after big races; however, even though it is expected, it is never less any notable. It's that feeling of forgetting to pack toilet paper when backpacking through the woods. It is the same feeling as forgetting your child at the grocery store and drive away from the parking lot. It is also that feeling of getting the wind completely knocked out of you by a force unknown to any cerebral awareness. Aching and empty, all at the same time.

As I left Bismarck on Sunday afternoon, that feeling was ever present and ever expected. However, something strange was also lurking nearby: I had also realized that I had found something.

That "something" is left without a name, an orphaned child destined for electric red hair and even bolder Broadway vocals. Although not completely aware of its nature nor creation, I can tell that it is something just as powerful as those other feelings, and even greater in scope.

Although I can't fully understand these notions and feelings, I know that they are exactly what I should be feeling now. I know that they are more powerful together than they would be apart, and I will embrace them in that odd-couple marriage inside of me.

Something very good is happening.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Who I Am

For so many reasons, beginning this post has been difficult. Perhaps it is my wrinkled, unpacked laundry calling, perhaps it is that it is far too hot out for nearly 9pm; but, perhaps it is entirely for so many more reasons that I haven't quite processed yet.

I am sitting on my bed, my own bed, for the first time in nearly a week. Arriving home from Bismarck, ND just a few moments after the fate of so many lives where announced to be changed forever. I sat on the outskirts of many eager wheelchairs and prostheses, helpful canes and hopeful parents alike. I sat at the cusp of something very, very big.

As they announced the 2012 Paralympic Swim Team alphabetically, I didn't even daydream about the tone or inflection that they may use in my name, for I had realized some time before I left that I still had a long way to go before my name would be read for such an audience. However, I had also realized that I was exactly where I  needed to be at that very moment.

Going into this meet, I prepared my hardest. I trained day in and day out towards becoming the best athlete that I could ever envision for myself. I showered myself in my own blood, sweat, and tears on a daily basis. I never set out to prove anything to anyone else other than myself, but over the past two years, it has been shockingly apparent that my own desire for the challenge had been caught by more eyes than I could have ever thought possible.

My journey, which started off to be solely about swimming, has transformed into something so powerful that has, no doubt, transformed my very being. I have gained so much, both inward and out. I have been privileged to make connections in the best company I would ever know. I would feel lifted by the same spirits that I have dedicated to mentor and teach for years. I have become stronger and more healthy, which maintains its direct proportion to the quality of my life. I have gained a sense of confidence that has made a nice, new home near my very center. I have grown far more than I knew I needed to.

Over the course of the Trials, I swam with my heart and the pride of my own character. I took many, subtle breath-like snapshots throughout the whole experience, each time reminding myself to enjoy every single minute of it. I took the time to be a friend and a mentor to swimmers around me--making connections that would far outlast the results of any race. I found myself smiling throughout my warm-ups and cool-downs, face to the bottom of the pool--enjoying my own grand moment of just "being".

And as hard as it is going to be for me to explain to most, having best swims doesn't necessarily equate to Paralympic Team status. BUT, what is going to be EVEN harder for me to explain is the full sense of serenity and contentment of the experience in its entirety. I suppose that I realized a long time ago, that people needed me to have a tangible goal: the Paralympics. However, I knew that I had already far exceeded every goal of mine on a daily basis. 

I feel that I have become a better person, for myself and for my own world surrounding. 

On the second day of competition, I had a conversation with myself as I was cooling down after finishing just shy of under a minute in my 50-backstroke race. (I have been trying to do that for a year now). At first my conversation went something like, "You still have one more chance at it, one more chance tonight." But, then it hit me like a hundred water bolts from the aquatic center sky: I have as many chances as I want, until I say that I am done.

And so it is. I will be back in the pool in the morning--not because I have something to prove or a challenge to encounter, but only because it makes me exactly WHO I AM, and I like the simplicity of that notion very, very much. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pool Therapy: Part II

Now, as I entered high school, I did so like any other self-conscious, yearning-to-belong-to-something teen. However, I also continued to carry that moment of undeserving relay swimming in the back of my heart. Wicked combo.

As a freshman, I was placed rather effortlessly on the varsity team-- again, feeling as though it was a mistake, a position I hadn't the skill to fulfill. Nevertheless, I went to that practice group anyway.

The lanes were arranged from fastest to slowest, and with my teenage mindset, I settled happily into lane 5 (there were only six lanes!) I was comfortable there and was sure that I could live out all of my dreams in that lane; only looking back now, realizing that I had pre-stifled most of my real dreams before I even stepped onto that pool deck.

At that point, all that I wanted to do was blend in in life. I did so in class, and I was going to do so in the pool. If it weren't for my coach (who actually saw more from me that I did), things would have gone just fine.

In that very first week of my freshman year practice, my coach had attempted to challenge me. Now as a memory, I COMPLETELY understand the intention of my coach; however, as a fragile 14-year-old, I only saw defeat. In front of the entire team, snotty seniors and all, I was to swim my best 100-butterfly for a time--and if I were to make it, the whole team was going to be rewarded by getting out of practice early. I could have cried right then and there.

As the girls waded and situated themselves around my now emptied lane, I breathed in the weight of thirty teenage minds wanting to get out of practice early. I closed my eyes and dove in.

I swam my hardest... or I thought I did. I couldn't help focusing on those faces lined strategically throughout my swim. I didn't even want to come up for air, for fear that I would connect eyes with one of them. Rather than being proud to have been chosen for such a challenge, I was both embarrassed and petrified of the outcome.

And, as my solo race came to a finish, I knew that there was no way that I had accomplished such a feat. The punishment was brought to all-- a horrendous kick set. Thank you, Ryan. (Although none of the girls actually said anything, I felt all of those sarcastic undertones.) How could that coach put me in such an impossible position?? I am not sure I ever fully recovered from those feelings, and found myself hiding in lane-5 for my remaining 3 years.

Looking back, of course I now see what my coach did that day. He saw the potential in me that I had always lacked seeing for myself. That day, he gave me a choice: I could either continue down that self-loathing swim path that I was on, or change it and become a really great swimmer.

We all know what I chose.

However, as I sit with those feelings now, I think that I am nearer to changing my path. I think that I can recognize those undeserved undeserving feelings and work with them. At least now I am going to try.

I leave for the Paralympic Trials on Tuesday. I will compete in Bismarck, North Dakota from the 14th to the 16th, and the Paralympic Team will be announced on Sunday the 17th once all of the results are in. I am not expecting anything other than to actually swim my races as though I actually deserve to be there. Whatever becomes of that is, of course, the outcome of that other path that I never chose for myself. And for that, I am truly excited. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pool Therapy: Part I

Somewhere in the midst of floating under water, thoughts turn into feelings, troubles turn into challenges, and training turns into emotional healing.

For me, swimming is more than a skill, much more than a sport-- it is a part of my soul. Lately, as I circle around the narrowed lane, I take my mind back to where it all began, searching for those childhood feelings of the swim.

Of course there are memories of smiles and laughter, of triumph and acheivement-- for those, I have plenty. However, there are equal memories of sorrow, disappointment, of defeat and failure--of myself as well as that very thing that I love.


I recall, quite incidentally, one of my first big moments of competition. I had been swimming for a fairly rigorous year-round team for only a few months--and even more notable--swimming competitively for a summer club team for just a couple months before that. Once I had finally learned to keep my head underwater there was no stopping me. I went from that summer club team almost immediately to the next level of training--year-round swimming and "real" competition.

This was my first meet as a "real" competitor, or so my little nine-year old self had understood it. There was only one tiny problem-- I was dreadfully sick. I had come down with some sort of flu bug the night before but had, in my typical fashion, determined that there was nothing that was going to keep me from swimming the meet.

Once I arrived on the pool deck and checked in with my coaches, they shocked me with my own earthquake-sized challenge-- I was going to swim in a relay, and not just any relay, the "A" relay. Clearly I was overjoyed and terrified in the same chlorine soaked body to receive such news. Those little flu bugs would just have to wait one stinkin' minute... for I was about to have a new, great moment.

Having been fairly new to the swim team, I was introduced to the other three girls on my relay team by one of the coaches. As we walked towards the trio with a smile in my heart and a skip in my step, things started to slow to a sudden, car-wreck-sort-of-stop. I could hear them, so obviously the coach would too, right?

"SHE can't possibly swim on our relay."
"SHE has no idea what she is doing."
"Where's Kate? She's a MUCH better swimmer."

The last words I heard were the most troubling of all. "You are going to swim the breaststroke leg..."

Breaststroke?! Sure, I could do it... but not in any world I would have ever put on that pseudo-frog-styled hat and flaunted it around like so.

The next few moments were a blur of unhappy nine-year old teammates, gurgling tummy, heart racing, and "Take your marks!"

In my nine-year old head, I had no idea how lasting those feelings of inadequecy would be. I had no idea how I would hold on to those feelings of not belonging, not being good enough, and not deserving my "spot" in the pool.

Sadly, those feelings translated into an even deeper sense of undeservedness as I entered high school...