I am grateful to report that this week was certainly not a waste! I dropped major amounts of time in all my events, and in my more competitive race, the 50 backstroke, I came much closer to meeting a MQS (minimum qualifying standard). A MQS is a time that must be met in order to compete in the Paralympic games. However, this time is a minimum standard, and by no means guarantees that one will actually make it to the games. After this weekend, I'm confident I'll make the MQS before trials in June, and hopefully drop my time even lower to have a more competitive world ranking.
For many of the athletes here, these meets might simply represent another opportunity to compete in a long-course pool and get another time. That is, after all, what swimming is for most swimmers... but for me, these meets represent indescribable life changes, and a bitter sweet combination of loss, resilience and opportunity. I sat on the pool deck yesterday, observing the meet and thinking about how I came to be here. I thought about the last two hellishly difficult years of recovery and grief. I reflected on the countless God-sent people in my life that have helped me through such a trying time. I remembered the half-dozen times I thought I couldn't stomach getting back into the water because of the emotional turmoil it caused me, always forcing me to remember what I had not too long ago.
Since my injury, swimming has not been about beating the guy in lane four, it's been about beating Carson. Swimming has come to represent life, and my ability (or lack of ability) to look it in the face and refuse to be defeated. Swimming is harder now, and to be honest, I don't swim because it brings me joy to get in the water. As terrible as it might sound, I swim because it's hard and because I don't want to. Of course, I'm competitive by nature and enjoy winning, and I certainly hope it becomes a joy... but when I swim, I'm proving to myself that I'm not giving up and as dramatic as it sounds, it's kind of a representation of how I want to approach life. If I can keep swimming, I can do anything else. Swimming is the easy part, it's what it represents that haunts me every time I drop into the water out of my chair.
Because swimming represents a journey that is so deep and meaningful to me, it causes me to reflect on myself as a whole. I always come away from a meet with a clearer vision of what I want to change about my character. I'm reminded that life is about people, and how we treat others. At this swim meet, I was befriended by a few very kind individuals who made my experience a positive one. I want to be that way. I want to remember what is important and what is not. You know those moments when you realize you are not who you wish you were? And I don't mean in a self-deprecating way, but rather in a constructive way. Well, I had a few of those moments at this meet. It's so much easier to be whatever our circumstances make us and just flow with the current, wherever it goes. Swimming against the current of life to become what we want is the harder path (pun intended). I am banking on it being worth it.
Grieving continues to be an ever-present part of my life, both in the pool and out... and when I think I've turned a corner or moved past something, I'm reminded that I'm a passenger on the grief train, whose conductor I am not. Perhaps it's the grief that drives me to write about pain instead of flip turns after swim meets, but right now, that's where the train is taking me. This is still where I am on my journey, still missing what is no longer available to me. And while loss is a painful emotion or experience, I'm realizing that the associated grief is not the enemy of happiness. Some days I long deeply for the pain-free life I knew before breaking my neck, but can simultaneously feel tremendous gratitude for my friends and family and consequently be filled with a certain happiness. It's as if I feel it all at once, the happiness, the longing, the love, the loss... such a wide range of emotion is the human experience, and I enjoy it (except when all the crappy emotions team up at the same time).
I felt this wide range of emotions throughout this week, including some very positive ones. The last Can-Ams in Toronto was my first big IPC meet. I went and competed, learned a lot, and made a few good friends. At the end of the meet, I was given a medal by a lovely young woman who encouraged me to keep swimming.
|Toronto (I think I posted this pic in another post... but it's a favorite)|
|Bismarck (Apparently, I wear this jacket when I get medals)|
This week, I earned my own medal by winning the S4 50 meter backstroke. I hope this is one of many future medals, but it represents so much more than just a faster swim. It helps me feel like I am succeeding in life in some way, despite my inadequacies and shortcomings. I also readily recognize that I have the best support system a person could ask for, and that I couldn't be doing any of this without the help of many. I thank those who have stuck with me when I haven't deserved it.
I have a lot of work ahead of me and I'm prepared for it! And so the journey continues forward into a very unknown, uncertain future. But I feel like I felt when I was lying in that foam pit just seconds after breaking... "I have love in my life. I have friends and family that love me. Nothing else matters."