I spent all of last week in Charlotte, NC, where Paralympic trials were held to select athletes to compete in the Paralympic Games in Rio, Brazil. This weekend was one I had looked forward to since I was laying in the hospital bed in the ICU. I didn't know how it would all work out, and I certainly didn't know all the hell I would have to go through along the way, but I did know that I wanted to get to at least the trials, and maybe even the 2016 Games.
I felt a sense of gratitude and accomplishment as I rolled through the airport and saw dozens of other individuals all coming together to compete for a spot in Rio. I felt like I was a part of something great, and I was proud to be one of the many athletes involved. In some ways, being at trials had some special significance because of some recent barriers I've had get in the way.
As some of you already know, a few months leading up to trials, when training was most crucial, I had a series of infections hit back to back that kept me out of the water and gym for almost two months exactly. Half way through this battle with infection, I emailed the director of the team and asked her opinion as to whether or not my participation in trials would be justified, given the context of my situation. I was encouraged to go, and was also wisely invited to recall the reasons I started swimming in the first place. She must be aware of my occasional all-or-nothing thinking.
I decided to go and didn't regret a minute of the experience. I had my typical triggers at the pool that reminded me of the able-bodied life I once lived, or how I wish I had a less involved disability like so many of the other athletes. But once I started connecting with my friends and fellow swimmers, I remembered that it's the connection with these amazing people that makes the experience so enjoyable. I was accompanied by both of my parents, who to this day support me wholeheartedly in my quest to find peace and happiness post-injury. I enjoyed having them all to myself for so long, and also enjoyed bringing them into the Paralympic arena that they don't frequently get to visit.
Saying goodbye to a dream is hard, and calling losses for what they are takes straight up courage and bravery. No one wants to look into the pit of loss at all their hopes and dreams, realizing that it didn't come together as hoped... but learning to do just that and move on with a gaze set on some new horizon is an experience that I've learned to value. Learning to accept a loss is sometimes what allows me to close an old chapter so I can start a new one. Of course, that's much easier said than done, I know because I'm feeling some of the difficulty of closing a chapter even while I write this.
One of the trickiest parts of loss is not just feeling the emptiness, but knowing how to effectively fill the void or replace the empty feeling. I've had to become a sort of new-dream creator, learning to fashion new aspirations to my own new limitations or lost dreams. I find myself doing that now as I meditate on what my future will hold for me as an ever-aspiring Paralympic athlete.
So it is from one hope to the next, from one dream to another. No one ever really capable of predicting the outcome. This is life, and I believe the greatest yields go to the risk taker and dreamer... so I still plan on risking and dreaming. There are still moves to make. The game is far from over.