Back in 1999 I was a good swimmer. I thought of myself as a super swimmer (my ego was a little bit bigger than it is now). I had already won a world championship, at 27 I became the oldest member in our National Swim Team ever, I helped our team to earn a couple of gold medals in Central American games in Colombia, I had 6% body fat and I loved swimming. It seemed as if I had it all athletically speaking, but I was so hard on myself I didn’t know I was being my worst enemy.
With my club team we went to a swimming meet in the beach town of Acapulco. I tried new events just for fun and I remember putting so much pressure on myself because even though I loved what I do I also liked to win and I thought everyone expected me to do so.
I won the events I generally competed at and, to my surprise, I also won the 200IM. I had been working hard at this point to improve my other events but the backstroke was always a challenge… or, in real terms, I sucked at it (still do).
My first international event representing Mexico. I was so young!
The next event was the 100 back and I went in knowing all I wanted to do was to stay afloat and as close as possible to my teammate Marisol who was a kick-ass backstroker at the time. I barely stayed afloat, it hurt like it was a 1000 back (really, I suck at backstroke) and I came in fourth place. My coach was laughing since he knew this was not one of my events and it was about having fun and learn to swim other stuff… as the event ended I was okay with it but, as soon as I climbed out of the pool something happened: a couple of people, one of the officials and some of my teammates asked me “What happened?” and their faces showed a mix of disbelief, disappointment and incredulity. I mean, It was me, I was a world champion after all and I just got trashed in an event at a small swimming meet. I have to confess I felt a mix of emotions running through my head: Do they know this is not my event? Do they know I really tried but it was not meant to be? Do they still like me even if I am not invincible? Do they think less of me? How can they be disappointed? Am I that bad? Is this worth it? Should I just go to the bathroom and hide? Now I need to win my next event to prove I am good!…. well, none of this should have matter because we should do what we do because we love it and as long as we give our 100% (whatever our 100% means on that day and at that particular time) we should be proud of ourselves.
Splashing myself before racing, That was part of my pre competition ritual
On the other side of the pool there was a mom with her 11 year old son. He was overweight, his strokes weren’t perfect –far from it- and he was not even close to what we consider “a good swimmer” or “a rising star”. But there was something about this mom that was awesome: she was so proud of him and every time he swam she cheered for him like he was breaking a world record. Every time he came out of the pool (most of the time in last place of his heat) she would go, greet him, hug him and told him how proud she was of his effort, how he loved to see him swimming, and how overall awesome he was. This woman came to me and asked if she could take a picture of her son next to me (to be fair I was quite a phenomena not so much because of my swims but because my physique was huge and I had really short, spiky red and blue hair a-la-Dennis Rodman). She told me, now I have a picture of my favorite swimmer next to a great swimmer. It made me almost cry. I realized how for the people that really love us we are their favorite in whatever-we-do no matter how we perform. It made me a little jealous at the time I have to confess. How come my own teammates were telling me stuff about my backstroke swim? How come even in my own home whenever I came back the question was always “Did you win?” instead of “Did you have fun? Did you give your 100%? Tell me about the meet in your own words”, and even worse, How come I was questioning myself based on a result or on what other people think when I knew I gave it everything I had and I had fun?… so, I have tried to apply this to my life nowadays. I don’t swim anymore but I run. I love running. It makes me happy and I love to test my limits, expand them and create new ones. Of course I have fallen into the trap of “being good/please people/what will they think of me” and, when this happens, I just close my eyes and think of that mom in Acapulco and on how happy and proud of his effort his son was.
I am the big, muscular one with spiky blond hair
I think of this every day when I take my daughter to the pool or to any of her other activities (she is big into synchronized swimming and she runs from time to time). When I see her nervous before a meet I just tell her “You know? I am so proud of you for trying. I don’t care what result you get, It’s all about giving your 100% and having fun while doing it, and, if you don’t want to do it, I’m cool with it too. We just want you to be happy”. But, more than telling her, I try to show her. Kids don’t learn by words, they learn by watching us. Whenever I race, or train, or try anything new, I always try to embody the spirit of that mom and be my biggest cheerleader, have fun while doing it, and be proud of my effort no matter what the result is and no matter what other people may think or expect.
Kori and I on her first ever running race, She was 2!
And you? How do you treat yourself? Whom are you listening to? If you have kids, What are you telling them?
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