I grew up a dancer, and a swimmer. A strange combination, but the uniqueness of it gave me what I needed to compete at my best. It’s also been what has helped me find my way back.
Dancers learn to feel the music. I remember as early as 6 years old clapping to the beat of the music. One of my friends Kim joked with me a few years back “You are the only person I know who dances at a wedding on the 5-6-7-8.”
It’s true. As a dancer the beat, the count is ingrained in you. Mary Alice used to turn off the record, find a random spot and we’d know where the beat was on the 1-8. If you know dance, you know exactly what I mean. If you don’t….. then there is a self awareness about it all I can’t articulate. Dancers know music. Feel music. We feel it in our bones. The lyrical, the classical, the modern excitement of the beat. We danced to feeling…. not protocol.
When my attention turned solely to swimming it came with me. I was a distance swimmer and when I swam the 500 I would play songs in my head. In high school when I swam my best times it was to “We didn’t start the fire” by Billy Joel. The beat matched my cadence.
I credit dance for teaching me to not think. Recently I got halfway through the book Untethered. It is a great book, don’t get me wrong. But a lot of it was about the voices in your head, the thinking voices.
I don’t have those. I don’t think through my day. As I was reading I kept gaining the feeling…. this would be a horrible way for me to live. I put it down. I referred it to a friend who always complains of how she thinks too much.
And I understood something. I don’t think too much, in fact…. I don’t think at all.
When I race at my best the music plays in my head. I feel.
The years I was not racing at my best were the years I was driven to data. To thoughts, quotes and sayings to focus on. I was trying to be an intellectual when I am not one. I am a feeler. I am a spirit on the field….. and I allowed that to get away from me.
Dance taught me to know. Dance taught me to feel. Dance taught me to connect with the emotion in music. Dance taught me how to express that and somehow….. I don’t know how…. I was able to bing that into the pool with me. Eventually I was able to bring that onto the triathlon course.
I train with music at times. I never ever wear an underwater radio…. but when I swim… through the silence the music is playing. When I ride my trainer I do listen. When I run…. sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.
But the music is always playing. I have tried to force thoughts, and it disconnected me.
As I grow into my role as an athlete with my coach it’s been an amazing experience. He’s the first one who speaks to me as I need to be spoken to. It’s not in wattage and pace. It’s in emotion and feeling. Granted… the paces and wattages are present, but they are the undertone. And I have followed that lead and allowed them to become undertones again.
Ride with your heart. Get to know yourself again. Feel the effort. Knowing how to connect with your athlete is the key. Some do great with numbers. Ericka calculates math equations in her head. I flow. I feel. Neither is right or wrong, but it’s our own.
I spent years trying to think, trying to relate, and all I really needed to do was get back to feeling.
5-6-7-8. Music and flow ignite me and help me find the center of my soul. I don’t think too much and after reading part of that book I feel grateful. That space in my head has been a gift and it’s time I start using it wisely. That is my edge and I must stop trying to fill it. I don’t want to live in a mind where all I do is chatter and compare. My mental hampster wheel is eerily quiet. I tried, I really tried to make it noisy but it just didn’t work. It’s just not who I am.
I don’t believe that there is a right or a wrong in terms of competitive mindset. I do believe that we spend too much time trying to be what we are not. Trying to be anywhere else, anyone else than who we are.
Be who you are. Get to know who you are.
Dancing and swimming were strange bedfellows to the outsider….. but a perfect brilliant match to me. Now….. let’s turn up that music.