To be honest it started out as a joke. I had felt confident that I retired at the right time from my athletic career because the normal path of life told me it was to move on. If you weren’t good enough to be a pro athlete and if you knew “making it” wasn’t guaranteed, life was calling you to a new adventure. Dreaming was a risk.
But a few days ago, a master’s swimmer I met told me about tri-athletes he knew. He said that they were barely making any money. They were working full time, training full time, just so they can chase their dreams. He said even though it’s beyond challenging, they are fulfilling their dreams. Even though it sounds insane, they are happy, living with no regrets.
This made me think of a quote from the Pursuit of Happyness and it only further reminded me that I wasn’t doing something insane. I was going to do something that made me happy. I was going to return to swimming to train for the 2020 Olympic Trials.
“Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do something. Not even me. You got a dream, you gotta protect it, When people can’t do something themselves, they’re gonna tell you that you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period.”The Pursuit of Happyness
When it began
Not too long ago I found myself on a Sunday morning, eating brunch with one of my best friends saying that I wanted to swim in the 2020 Olympic Trials. We were in Atlanta for a going away party for one of our former teammates, who was going to graduate school in London. Talk about chasing dreams.
My friend, Emily, also swam at the University of Georgia, but was living in Athens to pursue training for triathlons which is probably the coolest thing ever. She’s always been lean, and she was a great runner in high school. She actually loved it. When she started training and competing, her drive and determination proved how talented she was. It was easy for people to see she was chasing her dream. It was also easy for me to support her and tell her that taking the path less traveled was worth it. But when I told her I wanted to swim she just looked up at me and simply said, “You should do it. That’s what I’m doing”.
If anyone was going to be honest with me when I declared any thought or feeling, it was going to be her. After she told me to go for it, she gave me some more advice. Emily told me that if I was going to do it though, I should be all in, 100%. If I wanted it, then I needed to believe I was good enough for it. Most importantly I needed to believe in my dream and in myself more than anyone else.
Protect your dream
Naturally, I shared this with my parents who only said that they had raised me to chase my dreams, and that they were going to support me all the way. We spent weeks planning and talking about it, making sure this wasn’t impulsive, but that it was purely what I wanted – a chance of redemption. It didn’t take long for my extended family to also be on board, offering to help pay for travels and extra expenses. I am beyond thankful for my family, every single one of them. They all have offered me support and love, telling me they were proud of me. I owe everything to them.
I told myself that if my collegiate coaches thought it wasn’t the path for me, then I would step back from it. But I had the complete opposite reaction. If I was all in, then they were too. Every single one of my coaches at Georgia knew me beyond a swimmer, but as a student, a person, a dreamer. If I was willing to put in the work, then they were willing to help get me there.
Naturally, I told both of my older coaches, Jimmy Smith and Doug Fetchen, who have both coached me in significant ways, helping me reach my dreams at the club level. Both of them had extremely positive responses, which was so encouraging.
So don’t just chase your dream
When I started to get back into the water after four months out, I swam with the masters group in Charleston, so I could train with Doug, my old coach. He of course told everyone that I planned to move back to Athens so I could train with my college coaches and teammates, and their support was unparallel. They offered to help raise money, gave me advice, and told me that chasing my dreams was the most powerful thing I could ever do.
One of my new friends mentioned I should watch the new Nike commercial. It stars Serena Williams since she is playing in her first US Open since becoming a mother. The commercial has a voiceover of her dad, and shows various videos of her throughout her career. At the end it says “It’s only crazy until you do it”. She recently tweeted the commercial with a caption saying, “If you don’t dare to try and chase your dreams, you’ll rob yourself the joy of doing it. Don’t just dream it. #JustDoIt”.
I really don’t want to be watching Olympic Trials in 2020 wondering “what if”. So with the support of my entire family, my friends, my teammates, old coaches, new coaches, masters swimmers, strangers, I am headed back to Athens on a new journey. The journey of training and working so I can redeem myself of my injury in 2016.
I know my story isn’t special, but hearing that I wouldn’t be able to swim at an elite level ever again was devastating and hard to overcome mentally. But I don’t hate my journey anymore and I try to not wonder what if, because things happen for a reason, and I am only moving forward. Swimming for the eight year old me who adored the sport more than anything – the sport that gave me everything. Swimming for everyone who helped me through anxiety, depression, failure, and pain. Swimming for everyone who believes in me. Most importantly swimming for myself, the 22 year old who doesn’t want to live with any regrets.