One week prior to Olympic Trials in 1992, a teammate asked if he could jump off the 10M platform. It’s a pretty regular occurrence for swimmers to enjoy jumping off the platforms…unless you’re ME! My coach said we should all do it! If we have the courage to jump off the 10M then we would have the courage to race at Trials. I did not feel that those two things were mutually exclusive but I was’t going to take that chance…because athletes are also superstitious. I carefully walked up the steps to the top and proceeded to stand in some “prepared-like” position to jump until I started cramping. (FYI, it took just over 25 minutes for calf cramps to arrive). By now the deck was empty except for my angry coach. “Just jump, you chicken”, he said…or something close to that. 😉 You can call me names all day but I definitely wasn’t “chicken”. I yelled back at him that I was no chicken and in the blink of an eye, I was over the edge, on my way into the diving well. It still makes me wonder why that one jump terrified me and then it makes me smile to know I jumped when my coach called me out. I was afraid of jumping from that height, but I certainly wasn’t afraid I was going to fail at Trials. I just needed to make sure.
When you are a kid, you don’t seem to be as familiar with the sting of failure. As you get older, you become aware of the sadness or embarrassment of not completing a goal, what jealousy feels like or the pain of injury or defeat. This fear of failure can be debilitating and it keeps us from trying new things (what if I’m terrible at this?), meeting new people (what if nobody likes me?) or creating new goals (what if my best isn’t enough?). I think that a healthy note of apprehension is fine, but what makes one person try and keeps the other person from doing the same?
One of my strongest traits is that I’m not usually afraid of failing. It may take some cramps and being called a chicken, but I’ll give it a shot and maybe even fail before I walk away. As a young athlete, I just wanted to win. It was as simple as that. And I’m not sure that my average of winning was any better than my average against not winning, but that was always the driving force for me. I loved being bribed by my parents: If you win high point, we will buy you that stuffed animal. I also enjoyed seeing my name and picture in the paper. (So vain). But as I matured, I valued the internal reward much more than I enjoyed the external reward. I started to love the feeling of watching hard work pay off and I really loved that my competitive side was rewarded. I loved that I felt so confident that it never occurred to me that I may not always get what I want. I never thought that I would fail and so I never had that worry even if it was always a possibility. In fact, even when I was a terribly lazy athlete, which is basically my first two years of college swimming, I STILL always thought that I was ready to race. Ignorance is truly bliss.
With some serious “growth steps” and maturation, I made a quick ascent into the World Rankings and yet, that number was not what propelled me each day. That number was just a product of the job I was doing. Staying focused on my work each day and what I wanted to accomplish at the end of the season were my guideposts and my coaches helped me stay focused on that path.. I tended not to worry about the other athletes, which was a great lesson to learn at a young age. It was very hard to distract me and I believe that was a trait that led me to be one of the best in the World, even if only for a short time.
What does that have to do with my life now? I haven’t stopped trying new things, even though I’m well past my Olympic prime. As a military spouse, I have had to keep finding new friends and new jobs every time we moved. I’ve had jobs in professional sports, with a small gift shop and design store, and I also worked for an online start up company. All very different and fun jobs but I know that I’m a quick learner and a hard worker so I gave it a shot. As an athlete after college, I’ve participated in a men’s basketball league, learned to snowboard at 28, started taking boxing classes for fitness in my 30s, and then at the ripe ol’ age of 46, I took up Crossfit.
I think a reasonable fear of injury still lurks in my brain as I swing from a bar or get upside down, but the young girl in me still thinks it’s all possible when I work out. I don’t have much in the way of “coaching” to offer friends as I’m not the best Crossfitter in our box and I lack experience, but I can share this little tidbit of knowledge. If you’re afraid of something before you even try it or you become afraid of not being satisfied with the outcome, you have to put that to rest. You have to be able to close those thoughts off. Spend those nervous moments with some positive self talk, recalling hard work or the praise from your coach or teammate. Imagine yourself doing that thing that you’re afraid of and imagine what it will feel like when you accomplish that goal. You may not always get the end result you were hoping for (says the Silver Medalist) 😉 but there will be a sweet sense of satisfaction at not being a “chicken”.