Friday, July 31, 2009

Living and Learning...Sometimes the Hard Way

A chef I befriended last year in Singapore once wrote me a short and direct email after a disappointing swim I had in Beijing...he said, “the greatest test of courage in the world is to bear defeat without losing heart.” My heart was temporarily lost but has been recovered. I felt a bit defeated and lost partly due my nature of being very hard on myself at times and often expecting the world. This past swim season has been very difficult on my mind and body. I felt pressure from within my core to perform and out-do what I did last summer. My goal for the year was to do what I did last summer, but better. How did I prepare you ask? I worked my tail off spending many extra hours in the weight room and further refining my technique…I also sacrificed many things including going out with friends at times, desserts, going home to see my family, traveling and getting a break from the grind of training, and even some personal relationships which I deeply regret.

This summer was not, at first glance, what I had worked for, dreamt of, nor wanted. I never wanted to get third in the 50 and 100 freestyles at Trials. I never wanted to swim only the preliminary of the 400 free relay at World Championships (however this was the right coaching choice…I didn’t swim fast enough in the preliminary to deserve a spot on the finals relay). I never wanted to stress over the suit issue within myself, with my coaches and with others. I never wanted to push a good friend away in order to make myself better for swimming (which in actuality made it worse). The point is that it doesn’t always matter what we want or how hard we work to fulfill a dream. Life, as I’ve found out the hard way at times, doesn’t always follow a direct path. We must be pliable. What matters is how we handle situations we encounter that differ from what we expected…and how we frame the obstacles that try to alter our paths to success.

For much of my life I have tended to see mostly black and white, and no, I do not mean in a literal sense. Something was either going to help my swimming or not, make me happy or it was not, make me better or it was not. The first glance of this summer was not the beauty I had imagined it would be. The vibrant shades of the spectrum were non-existent. What was existent was something I rarely see, shades of gray. Sometimes it takes the unexpected, the disappointing, and even the negative cold edge of life for me to see what is truly the right way. This summer was a cold and sharp edge for me.

When I finished my race in Rome I immediately thought this summer, and in part, the past year, had been a waste. Nothing I did this summer was better than last summer. Part of me thought that was it. I wanted to give up on swimming. For a brief period I thought I was going to. What was all the hard work and sacrifice for if my year didn’t end in the success I had desired?

My mother always raised me to have confidence and truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Although it can feel like a bullet in the butt sometimes…I still believe this to be true. This summer of unexpected occurrences allowed me to see things I hadn’t before. Here is a small list of things I learned this summer that I will take through the rest of my life.

1. I need more tests/meets/reality checks along the way which will help me indicate where I am and what I need to do in order to get where I want to go (this goes for most things…not just swimming).
2. Trying to be better and do more things right will not work if I’m not happy doing it.
3. Work towards letting go of things I cannot control.
4. Don’t mistake swimming for being something bigger than it actually is. Swimming is swimming. Swimming is something I do, that has brought great joy and learning to my life, but it in no means defines who I am as a person.
5. Swimming is not more important than good personal relationships. Swimming will last for a little while…good personal relationships can and will likely keep me strong through the good and bad times, long after swimming is gone. Cherish those who really matter.

I'm not sure what the future holds. What I do know is that I am bouncing back from this stronger and smarter than I have ever been. There is so much I have already learned. Plus, I have already begun doing push-ups throughout the day...I will be up to 300 per day by the beginning of next week!

37 comments:

Ana said...

Wow a very wise blog entry. I'm really glad you've learned so much and found the gray area. Things do happen for a reason and I myself had to figure that out this summer. I know above being an awesome swimmer you're a great person and a very inspiring one @ that. You will bounce back and even amaze yourself :)
Much Love 2 you
Ana aka MsAnnie26

Adin said...

Amazing blog, good luck to you in the future!

Rosie said...

Really beautifully written, congrats!

Mary Catherine said...

I think we all have our learning years and your's just happened to be more in the spotlight than most. I wish the best for you in all aspects of life.

Yat said...

Maybe you should have some desserts and other stuff. You have august to be the summer of GWG. Swim, but low milage and high dryland like you said. But reward yourself. This blog sounds like you've been very hard on yourself and very nervous and anxious on making the "cut". So let loose and let your hair down for this month to decompress. Come back bigger and badder next year and show them what the champ has to offer.

Admin said...

Wow this entry was really touching. I am also a swimmer (not anywhere near your level though), and my summer has been pretty blah. I keep on training but i don't improve much. But what you have to say is really important. I have keep all aspects of life in perspective. Thanks for the inspiring wake up call, and best of luck to you and whatever you do the rest of your life.

Anonymous said...

Hey Garret-
Swimming is definitely a test of character. We live and learn from what we do and how we do it. I know you'll continue to have success, and all of that hard work from the summer WILL pay off at some point. I do suggest reading a book called "Mind Gym" by Gary Mack. Great for these situations!!

Isa said...

Wow this is one of those moments where some of us won't make certains mistakes because we have learn from some other person experience.
Sometimes we are so focus on what we think is the best for us that when we think back we just realize that we have lost some things that could have make a difference in our life, like a personal relashion.
Better days will come for you and you just have to believe in it and make sure that you'll enjoy them as much as you can.

Karen said...

Your entry is a testament to the fact that life isn't about the ends, but the struggles that teach us to keep pushing. Two months ago, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Nothing in this world could prepare my family for the fear that follows that kind of news, but even as your heart is broken, you realize that you need to get up and keep fighting for what you want. Though you may have thought for a second that all your efforts were a waste, I contend that it's made you a more thoughtful and understanding person. In the end, that's all that matters.

Wishing you peace, fun and a generous, well-deserved helping of cake!

Anonymous said...

I swam in high school, college and now on a master's team. Although I have never been at the level you are at (no where near it, in fact), I have always found enjoyment in the sport. I have met some great friends along the way and really feel rejuvenated after a good swim. Your newfound perspective is a good one. You're right, swimming doesn't define you. You have the power to decide how these "lessons" impact what you decide to do next. Trust in your instincts and know that whatever decision you make, it will be the right one for you.
Take Good Care and Enjoy Rome!!
Gina Baldacci

J said...

The blog was reflective and made me stop think about a a few things. I have been in those shoes before, but not in the swim world. You mentioned its those closer to you who suffer, pushing away your personal relationships. It seems like sometimes those closer are those who suffer a little bit, maybe because its loss of focus or trying to provide a clear path for the goal. I have learned though that the closet friends (the best ones are those stick by you), support you, and really are the ones you need around in the hardest bits of training/or graduate school. One friend in law school, likes a quick study break just to get a recharge for conversation. I learned from your blog, that your very insightful and reflect on the goals. You really have succeeded in creating a learning tool for swimmers, fans, and other readers to understand the world of a athlete. You give us a birds-eye view of the journey, and your humility is what provides such a inspiring encouragement to us all. Thanks for your sharing your journey, inviting us to fun adventures, and reciprocating the advice to all us. I know most of us can apply these life lessons to our own lives! PS- Go eat a delicious dessert in Italy!

Stone Cold Button said...

swimming is a part of you. yes, it's an important part, but still just a part. it alone doesn't define you. there's much more to gwg than this one facet.

#3 is the key. you cannot control what others do, only what you do.

you are an inspiration to all the kids out there who are following your lead. they'll train right. they'll eat right. they'll live right. then, they'll give their best and let the chips fall where they may.

thanks for sharing your message with us.

AAA said...

I know people always say that there's still time... it's never too late. I learned all of these lessons that you say so eloquently in my senior year of college swimming... it's too late for me for that but your post has inspired me to keep competing in some fashion, in and out of the pool. It's nice to see that Superstars like you go through the same things as everyone else. Thanks for putting yourself out there. It takes a lot of courage to say what you said. I wish you all the best and will be following your success. It will come :).

Ashley said...

That's a great way to look at it, G. I'm proud of you, as are a lot of other people, for what you DID accomplish this summer. The things you accomplished far outweigh the things that didn't go quite as planned. Before you know it, you'll be back at the top of the medal stand where you belong.

Enjoy your time in Italy!!

Morgan said...

Thank you for this. I had a terrible year swimming wise. You blog has given me courage to go on and keep working hard. Thanks :)

Kate W. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kait W. said...

Very inspirational blog Garrett :) I have always said life is like a roller-coaster, there will be ups and downs and sometimes it won't be very fun, but then you have times where you are on top of the world! I know you have been struggling but your day will come when you are once again on top :) Keep on doin wut you love and enjoying every second of it!
Love ya G ( a.k.a. Larry) haha idk if u remember that from Indy lol
-Kait (K_Dubya on twitter)

Hadar said...

It's a pleasure reading your blog, Garrett. Just based on what you write, whether or not your swimming has improved, you have grown and matured as a person in incredible ways since last summer. And it's a very grown-up thing to understand that our loved ones are more important than something we do - even if that something is as terrific and enriching and all-encompassing as swimming.

Woodrow Pack Landfair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Woodrow Pack Landfair said...

Thanks for that G. That was meaningful. Really shook me. You have a terrific perspective and you're able to express it candidly and smoothly. I've read a lot of your blogs. You do an excellent job with them.

Garrett said...

Thank you to all of you who have responded to my post. It really took a lot for me to write that. It is not always easy to write such meaningful and intense things...personal things. I appreciate your support and insight!

Ashley said...

I have always been a fan of swimming and of your blog, Garrett. It is so well-written and insightful. Your words are applicable to so many situations in life -- not just in regards to swimming. Hold your head high and keep persevering!!

J said...

Okay, one last question, for the fans....did you eat a dessert? For the love of all who like tiramisu or some other italian delicacy!

Whitney said...

You've clearly gained an enormous amount of insight throughout this last year. I'm eager to see how you'll grow from these breakthroughs. I wish you all the best.

Anonymous said...

To me the most basic human need is the need for relationship. It's the releationships you have, whether it's a friend, family member, fans, gf wife etc. that will give you the support you need when you don't even realize you need it. It's always a risk because there is always a grey area with people- and that grey area is compromise. Either you make comprimises or you make a desicion one way or the other. It can be a tough call, no? Either way, I hope this time of reflection and relaxation benefits you in more ways than you can imagine in the future. Any may you PERSUE and achieve your goals both in and out of the pool!

Zach "Sunshine" Anderson said...

Fantastic entry. It's a hard lesson to learn on any level in swimming. While competing for BYU, I had a very similar experience where I was actually diagnosed with overtraining my senior year just because I wanted to compete well so badly. In the end, it led to me adding a full minute in my mile at conference championships in the event I used to hold the conference record in. Luckily, I learned to separate my swimming from my self-worth. Good luck in the future, I hope this lesson becomes part of your training philosophy.

NAME: Stephanie said...

Garrett, that was such a wonderful and truly inspirational blog!! Sometimes in life, we just need something to kick us in the butt so we can figure out what's important, what's not important, and move forward with life. I'm so glad that I got to see you swim in Indy and meet you!! I know you've got more left in you - and I can't wait to see what the future holds for you!!!!!

-Stephanie [The girl that accidentally touched your butt in Indy. HA.]

N said...

There comes points in time where you have to stop 'woodshedding' and 'bloodletting' to better yourself and start feeling and doing. Can't have one without the other and can't feel successful without having both.

N said...

There comes points in time where you have to stop 'woodshedding' and 'bloodletting' to better yourself and start feeling and doing. Can't have one without the other and can't feel successful without having both.

N said...

There comes points in time where you have to stop 'woodshedding' and 'bloodletting' to better yourself and start feeling and doing. Can't have one without the other and can't feel successful without having both.

bryan said...

Yeah, Singapore.

Swimming is not only a sport, but also a lesson in life. Keep training hard.

Sally said...

I think that part of growing up is understanding that sometimes, no matter how hard you work and pray, things don't work out the way you want. Your blog shows that this summer has helped you to grow as a man. It's taken me 11 years as a mom to realize that the most growth happens when things don't work out as you planned. Life really is a work in progress. The trick, and one I still struggle with each day, is finding the joy throughout the entire journey. Spend some time this summer in your kitchen:) My 6 year old swimmer daughter is taking a cake decorating class this week and so I know we'll be experiencing some joy in our kitchen:)!

Humberto said...

I read like 50 post per day in my google reader, i just got here randomly and I must say that this is one of the best posts I've read

good luck with the swimming, and no swimming also ;)

Michaela Hogue said...

Don't regret anything you did. You learn from it. And you did not waste anytime at all. You may not agree with me, but you did get to Rome. Farther than others did. The people that stuck to your side are the people you want to keep in your life. The people who will support you in anything you do whether it is swimming or cooking or even in a relationship. Also do not pay attention to what others do just focus on yourself. I would go relax this week. Do something besides swimming for a day and relax. For me it is going to a spa...but you may not agree with me there. Than get back into your routine. Be grateful you don't own a restaurant now...than you would have killed yourself..lol. Hang in there!

Michaela Hogue said...

If it makes you feel any better....you are my favorite male swimmer being only that you appreciate you accomplishments and you don't toss them aside like it is nothing. (aka Michael Phelps) You are a hard worker.

sisterlynn said...

Sounds like you've learned a lot this summer. Taking time to reflect and gain a new perspective is a healthy way to deal with disappointment, in swimming and life in general. Be proud of what you've accomplished. And, have a very happy birthday -- you deserve it!

Kait said...

Inspirational. You rock, Garrett!


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