Eight Words & One Chance, by Stephanie R.

As I stood behind the blocks, my heart was racing. I could feel my stomach churning in excitement. I had never been so ready to swim in my entire life. This was my first chance in high school swimming to compete in a conference championship meet. Right as I was about to step up to race, my coach pulled me aside. I waited with hope to hear words of encouragement, positive comments, and the usual “you’re going to do great” speech.

The words he said to me have forever been stuck in my head.

“Don’t mess up. This is your only chance,” my coach stated.

Oh and how those words jinxed me. I froze in fear behind the blocks. My shoulders tensed. My legs suddenly felt like jello, and my jitters became apparent throughout my body. What if I don’t place or get a best time? What does Coach expect? Maybe he thinks I am not ready for this race after all.

All of a sudden the whistle blew and my mind went blank. It was time to get up on the blocks and race.

“Don’t mess up.” Those words were like a broken record playing over and over in my head.

I felt sluggish in the water, my timing was off, and my turns were bad. I felt as though I was swimming through quicksand, slowly making my way towards the finish. The race was finally over and I knew without looking at the scoreboard that I had fulfilled my destiny. Not the destiny of a best time that I had been dreaming about all season; but, rather a destiny set for me 5 minutes before the race of “don’t mess up.” Those long hard weeks I spent training were for nothing. With my shoulders hunched over, I shuffled over to my coach’s stern face looking down upon my tear-welled goggles. He didn’t say anything; after all, what was there to say.

In that one race, and with those eight words, my coach made me question my goals and abilities, and shook my self confidence. Nevertheless, the next day I went back to club swimming. Rather than taking the normal 6-8 week break like I had in my previous years, I was back in the water. I channeled my frustration into my practices. I worked harder, I felt stronger, and I felt faster. Then it was time to compete again at winter regionals. Instead of excitement, I felt fear. As I stood, waiting for my race, one of the younger swimmers came up and asked me, “Why do you swim?”

All of sudden, it hit me—the answer that is. I swim for myself. I swim to be healthy, to show respect and friendship to my teammates, and to coaches and officials, to be gracious in defeat, humble in success, and to be proud of small achievements as well as big ones. Winning a race, or even swimming the fastest time was not a more important goal than giving 100% effort to do my best.

Every day, I wake up early in order to make morning swim practices, I push through pain to make myself stronger, and I never fail to make the goals I set for myself. This sport has taught me discipline and dedication; instilling in me a work ethic I would not otherwise have. Without disappointments in life, successes would not be treasured memories. The hours of practice and years of hard work have made me a champion, and never would I let my self-worth be judged by one race or one performance again.

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