I have a box full of medals and ribbons that don’t mean a darn thing to me. I only take the box out when I add another piece of hardware to the collection. The box then returns to the closet until the next race.
I’ve only been extremely proud of two athletic endeavors. The first event was the first time I swam the 500 yard freestyle in a swim meet back in 1995. I was a geeky 15-year-old high school freshman who had no idea what the heck was happening. I was dead on the floor exhausted afterwards and definitely came in last place, but was overwhelmed with a sense of personal accomplishment.
The second event was when I swam 12.5 miles around Key West in 2013. It was the most mentally and physically challenging event I have ever participated in and I hated every single minute. I cursed the world that day and almost quit more than once. I kept swimming because of stupidity, and, most likely, a little bit of pride. I came in 12th out of more than 150 people, met my goal of completion, and slept for the next two days.
Even in my mid-thirties, I still have desire to prove to myself I can accomplish anything that is worth doing. I do not compete in events for outside respect, recognition, or accolades. I compete for knowledge. Knowledge and self-awareness make you a better person, better coach, better friend, and ultimately, a better athlete.
I asked a fellow coach what motivated him to compete when he was younger. He knew what it was like to work very hard, set goals, and to have that work turn into pretty significant accomplishments. He was a phenomenal swimmer back in the day, but his one regret was the work that he did not put in for his coach. I think that’s true of most people and athletes. It’s never about what you did accomplish, it’s always about what strides you could have made. But, what he took from those swimming experiences was invaluable.
The part of my friend's story I enjoy the most is the chapter he’s in right now. He took his knowledge and love for something he enjoyed so much and turned it into a life. To quote TC, “It’s not about coaching Olympic swimmers, it’s about teaching people to be good enough swimmers that they enjoy the activity—and to take that skill with them for the rest of their lives. I would hope my enthusiasm for the sport would rub off on my swimmers and from there they would motivate themselves to achieve success however they define it.”
The acclimation of knowledge is what I believe makes strong leaders and motivators. To pass on what you have learned through trial and error is the key to success. Leaders try to push you to complete a task you never thought you could, because they know how to motivate you beyond your comfort zone.
I think that's why I don't look through that box of medals and ribbons. I know what each of those events brought to my life and what I was suppose to learn through each lesson. I don't need the reminders because I took that knowledge with me; it’s knowledge I pass on to my athletes every day. I think everyone should put themselves in a situation that pushes them physically and mentally. That's how we grow. To stay in our comfort zones is to stay stagnant. Imagine how much you could learn if you just took a chance on yourselves.