The Olympics have always been really special to me. As I’ve shared before, I used to be a swimmer. Swimming wasn’t just something I did for fun, it was my passion. My world. My identity. The highlights of my summers were camps taught by elite coaches and the end of the long-course season (Can I get an Amen?), with sleeping in a foreign concept. I had practically memorized Michael Phelps’ book Beneath the Surface, and Natalie Coughlin’s Golden Girl, reading one or the other at least once a month, and had posters of my idols donning my closet ceiling.
My most vivid positive memories are of swimming: swim practices, swim meets, swim camps, team banquets and State Awards Ceremonies… I don’t think I’ll ever get the feeing of standing behind those blocks, heart pounding, head racing, muscles pulsing, out of my head. As a young swimmer growing up, my dream was always to go to the Olympics. I was dead-set on competing; it wasn’t a question of “if”, but a question of what I’d have to do to get there. My email was “Beijingbound101@aol.com” in reference to the Beijing Olympics, but given that I would be not even 12 years old when those took place, I was planning on competing in London, in 2016. The greatest gift I’ve received to this day was traveling to Omaha, Nebraska with my mom to go watch the Olympic Trials. I’d already met Michael Phelps before, but at trials I met the young Missy Franklin, before she’d gained fame as an Olympian. Those trials just fueled my fire for the following games even more.
In the year following my “retirement” from swimming, any mention of the Olympics felt like a stabbing pain in my chest. I know I was only 14 at the time, and I know it’s not likely I would’ve been an Olympian had I been able to continue swimming. But it was that “What if?” that left my heart mourning.
The London Olympics seemed to go by in slow motion, and I can recall numerous nights spent crying in the shower and in bed while trying to fall asleep at night, asking God why He would’ve given me this passion and desire, not to mention talent and determination, for this sport my body wasn’t able to do.
I don’t believe time heals all wounds, as I don’t think I have or ever will get over my loss of swimming, but the degree of pain has definitely subsided. I do not feel a gaping hole in my heart from the hole that swimming left simply by waking up in the morning, but I definitely still feel it when I walk past a swim meet going on at Dixon, see a girl running around with wet, chlorine-saturated hair, wearing an iron-printed meet sweatshirt with her name starred on the back, or, yes, am reminded of the Olympics.
My identity is (obviously) no longer found in swimming. Ideally, I’d find it completely in Jesus; that’s a lot harder than it sounds. In these past years, through my parents’ divorce, transitioning schools, and my eating disorder (just to name a few), I’ve grown significantly closer to Him. It’s still hard to accept that I don’t have any one “accomplishment” I can claim, though. I don’t think that desire will ever fully go away. And I think that as long as I don’t use that desire to fuel the eating disorder, that’s okay. I’ve definitely noticed that the E.D. is significantly more attractive, even if just to my subconscious, when I’m dwelling on my swimming days and reminiscing on those moments of success.
I don’t really know why I’m writing this, mostly to process, I guess. I spent an hour last night watching swimming videos, and did my entire anatomy reading while listening to the playlist of songs I listened to repeatedly for over a year after I quit. It brought back up the sadness again, but I also think it was needed. It’s a reminder that I’m not going to get those days back, whether I weigh twenty pounds less, or not.
Success is a tough thing. I think it can be awesome when used for God’s glory, but I also think we, as humans (at least I am), are often attracted to it for the wrong reasons. When I’m pitying myself in moments of reminiscence, I’m not sad because I think my lack of swimming accomplishments won’t bring as many people to Jesus as I wish it would. I’m sad that I won’t get that satisfaction of being a champion, of blazing new trails, of making a name for myself. When I refocus myself and realize who it is I’m supposed to be living my life for, the whole thing seems a little silly, to be honest. I think there will be a way for me to bring just as much glory to God, whether I’m an Olympic swimmer or not 🙂