All week I was eager to race the 50 freestyle. All week I was focusing on racing against Maggie, she was such a good swimmer and my times were equal, I had just never raced her. I couldn’t have been more than ten years old, it was the summer swim league.
We belonged to a club called Hickory Hill. It suited me perfect. Tennis and swimming. Twenty five cent bomb pops at the gatehouse (we can’t call them bomb pops anymore). Those days consisted of getting dropped off for 7am swim practice. Then heading down for tennis practice or matches, then back to the pool for afternoons filled with sharks and minnows and the dreaded pause each hour. Adult swim.
I knew that it was dinner time when the Dad’s started showing up with the coolers. All the Dads used to carry those green Coleman’s on their shoulders, then they started getting little rollers for them. Such a Dad thing to do.
The local swim clubs competed against one another, and it was a big deal. Some clubs were swankier than others, I was a Hickory Hill kid through and through.
I remember being so pumped to race against Maggie. It would be a big meet, our teams were comparable. It was the type of meet that would come down to one or two events. We would cheer and scream and I swear you could hear that ruckus for miles.
I distinctly remember the flutter in my heart and the hunger within me as it got closer to meet time. I was ready. I was fired up. Tonight was my night in the 50 free.
Then I got the news. Maggie was out of the meet. She burned her eyelid on a curling iron and couldn’t swim. I vividly remember feeling horror, was she alright? Visions of her losing her eye started popping into my head. But she was fine. Just a little burn.
I was so disappointed. I wanted to race her so badly. I wanted the chance.
When my Dad got there I told him she wasn’t swimming. He looked at me and said “So?”. But DAD! I was so ready to race her! I know I can beat her or at least come close!!!!
“That shouldn’t affect your race at all.” He said to me. “We don’t race others we race ourselves.”
Isn’t it funny how your parents can say something so profoundly simple, that they don’t even remember it, yet it is one of those moments that shapes you forever?
I went on to swim the 50 free that night and I was able to secure a ten and under victory. Even now I can remember how different that felt.
Dad would always ask me two questions after my races: “Did you have fun?” and “Did you give 100%?”. To this very day after every race I do, whether it’s a 5K, an Ironman, anything. He still asks me those questions. Those have been my lifelong guiding questions for more than just sport.
Later that night we talked again. He taught me that who I was competing against never mattered. I would never have control of who showed up to race me, but I would always have control over myself and my race. That evolved over time into: “You can’t control life all of the time, and you can’t control other people, but you can control how you react and handle things.”
I don’t know if I ever did race Maggie, and from then on I never got focused on who was in the field. I was never one of those competitors who studied start lists and got nervous or confident depending on who was listed there.
During the years that I didn’t have fun and couldn’t give 100%, I stepped back.
The season is coming and I have some hunger to satisfy. I love racing to race. I don’t care what my placing is or what my time is because at the end of the day it’s all variable. I don’t get caught up in PR’s, every single course is different on any given day. I have never been one to attach my self worth to a time or placing anyways. They are what they are. Hillier course times and flatter course times are separate categories. Factor in heat and wind…… I take each race and day as it stands for itself.
Here is a secret, it’s a lot more fun that way.
It never matters who is on that starting line. What matters is who is within you. That transcends sport. Whenever I am talking sport trust me, it really applies to life. We can’t control who is on the starting line with us on every given day, but we can work with what it within us. How we handle any given situation, how we treat our fellow competitors, loved ones, colleagues, that’s within us.