There’s so much I want to say in this post, so many emotions and thoughts battling for my own mind’s attention that I don’t really know how to convey it to you, my reader, with out you getting lost in the depths of it all.
Many athletes, especially injured athletes, will understand what I’m talking about as they read on.
It’s taken me over two years to get back in the pool. Before a few weeks ago, I’d swam a handful of times since my senior year. When I was told I’d partially torn the labrum in my left shoulder, I was relieved. Small enough I didn’t need surgery, serious enough I could hang up my cap and goggles and move on with my life. You see, my 18 year old body had already suffered torn intercostal muscles lining my spine, I wasn’t getting much faster, my recruitment journey had lead me to schools I had no desire to spend four years of my life at, and I felt as though I was killing myself, ruining my body, over something that was never truly going to happen for me.
What I didn’t understand was that I was about to lose a part of myself that was as comparable to losing a limb. I remember my mom telling me, “I just want you to understand that once you close the door on this, it’s really going to be closed.” And that’s okay. All athletes, eventually, must move on from their sport and find who they are with out it. Well, with a little less of it. What I didn’t understand at the time was how lost and confused and lonely I’d be without the thing that had truly shaped me into who I am, what had kept me out of trouble in high school, what had given me the greatest friendships I’ve ever had, and what I was known for.
The summer before my freshman year at Mizzou, I emailed the head swim coach and asked him if he had any room for me to help out on deck or in the office as a manager. I can’t tell you how happy I was when he emailed me back and said yes. I also can’t tell you how nervous I was the first time I walked on deck during a practice to meet him. Or how nervous I was the next day when I met him in his office for a meeting on my position’s expectations. Being a team manager for one of the best collegiate swimming and diving programs in the country has been one of the greatest pleasures I’ve ever had with the sport. It’s also been one of the most conflicting.
I still remember the first time I was called a narp (non-athletic regular person). It sucked. (And for all of you thinking “sucked” isn’t a very ladylike or proper word to use, I don’t really care. Because there isn’t another word that really describes the feeling I’m trying to convey. Plus, it’s International Women’s Day and I’ll use whatever words I please). So, it sucked. Not for the reason that I wish I’d had surgery to continue training and competing, or even that I’d be able to call myself a student athlete again. It was because I have never felt like a narp. Not even during my two year hibernation away from chlorine. Maybe it’s because I truly understand how hard you have to work to be an athlete at that level, even though I’ve never experienced it myself. Or maybe it’s because I did work that hard for six years just so I could hurt myself and be forced to give it up.
I’m sitting up in my bed waiting for my chicken and rice to cook after a dip in the pool. My body is sore and my head is tired and I’m super hungry and I love it. I love being back in the water again. Even though my stroke needs help, I can’t seem to keep my head down and my hips up, and I had to split my lane with an old man who swam something that sort of looked like vertical breaststroke, I haven’t felt this good in a while. I was scrolling through Facebook and on my news feed, a few of my friends had shared the recently released Under Armour ad featuring Michael Phelps. It shows the most grueling, painful and heartbreaking moments swimmers face. It shows what it takes. I suggest you watch it in full screen. Right now.
The featured image and photo attached below was taken on, easily, the proudest day of my life. Here’s to those moments, whenever they may be, and no matter what, ruling your past, your future, and yourself.