Following Dori’s Advice: Just Keep Swimming

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Or in my case, just keep racing.

To tell this story effectively, I am going to start at the beginning, which takes us back to 2009. I was seated first in the 200 Butterfly finals at IVIES by a whopping four seconds, and when I dove into the pool my goggles fell down into my mouth. I couldn’t get them off and a panic attack ensued. I don’t remember much of the race, actually nothing after the first 100. Despite it all, I finished. Unfortunately, that event has left a mental scar that has never fully gone away.

They say that when you swim you face your fear of drowning because human bodies are not meant to be in the water. I am not sure how much of this is true, but I face this fear head on whenever I dive into the water.

After this incident, I searched for the perfect goggles that would not fall off. What I found are the goggles that I still use today, which if I am not mistaken were the highest grossing goggles in the 80s. I have since received a lot of slack for using such outdated goggles, but that seems like a minor repercussion for the comfort that they provide by not falling off at the start of each race.

I do not talk that much about this fear, or better said, its permanent existence throughout my swimming career. If I am honest, it was not until I started training at Canoe that I began to fully master this fear. Why did it take so long? I am not sure that I can even answer that question right now for myself. Looking back there doesn’t seem to be a distinctive reason, but rather that finally when I took a step back from competing and being extremely serious about swimming, I was able to handle some of my previous mental handicaps.

Another part of the equation was the nature of the practices that did not differentiate the priority of sets and allow for time to re-arrange or fix goggles. You just had to go as you were. I lost my goggles many times during those sets. The first couple of months, I was not too happy about it, but as time wore on I became number to the shock and could handle the occurrence with relative ease. I had almost lost the instinctive check that my goggles stayed on after diving in. 

All of that changed during the meet in Paris. As we started the 4×100 relay, I dove into the water and much to my surprise my goggles fell straight down into my mouth. My first instinct was to kick them off and continue swimming; however, by the 75 meter mark I could feel the panic starting to settle in. The breaths were quick and shallow and if I did not do something fast I would be back to that 2009 state. The best way to counter these attacks is to breathe out slowly and completely before inhaling, which is what I did. I finished the race with an incredibly fast time and all around were proud of how well I had swum, especially without goggles. All, that is, except me. 

What ensued was a resurgence of my fear. That fear that I thought had subsided, reared its roaring head to remind me that my challenge with this beast is not over. This became especially apparent at Spanish Nationals in Castellón last December (I will re-cap this meet in the near future). I swam almost all best times, yet even the slightest drop of water in my goggles sent me onto the brink of a panic attack, forcing me to place all of my attention onto quelling the attack instead of racing free.

I realized here that I could not face this challenge alone and that I needed some guidance. During my tenure with SwimMAC I was introduced to Dr. Charlie Brown, a sports psychologist, who had helped me learn how to swim free in the past. I reached out and was amazed at the wonderful and gracious response that I received. After talking we made a game plan, the first would be to tackle the goggle situation and the second would be to find inner confidence.

I have spent the last few months working on each of these goals, in very different ways.  This past weekend was the first meet that I attended since our meeting. The times are not really that impressive, but they are not this weekend’s measure of success. Instead I am focusing on the fact that during my 200 IM my goggles filled with water and yet I was not fazed.

Moreover, due to past performances I have gained a sort of following, in the sense, that all expect me to win, regardless of the event. In the past this type of pressure would have made me uncomfortable; however, I am learning how to thrive under the extra pressure of others, and that of myself. I have started the journey to figure out under what conditions I succeed and how to replicate them when it comes time to racing. I am more proud of my mental toughness this weekend than I have been in a long time and believe that we are finally upon the right path.  

No one ever wants to talk about fears. Fears are ugly and can be silly and embarassing. But I am learning that I cannot tackle this fear alone and I must talk about it, if I ever want it to go away. I need the support of others to help me unlock my potential and am so thankful to have such wonderful people in my life. I have always been a gifted athlete, but the mind can stand in the way of greatness. I believe that harnessing my mind will lead me to places that I never dreamed possible and look forward to sharing all of the future chapters’ successes with all of my loved ones!!

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