I love the water. I could easily trace the origin of this passion back to the eleven years I spent as a competitive swimmer. Even now, years after retiring from the sport, I find myself returning to the water whenever I need a calm place to contemplate the world and my place within it. I'm thankful for this reconciliation, given that my relationship with the water during the swimming years had more of a love-hate nature to it. As a ten-year-old, I didn't know how to handle my excitement. I absolutely adored swimming, making so many friends and seeing tangible signs of success. My heartbeat rang in my ears every time I stepped onto that starting block, and oh, what a rush it gave me. Every time I blasted into the water, it seemed as though I'd shave ten, maybe even twenty seconds off of my previous best time. I even lost count of my laps in one of those races, but it didn't seem to impact the final result all that much. I couldn't get enough swimming in my life. But this pattern couldn't continue forever. In my teenage years of racing, I encountered numerous obstacles I hadn't previously faced. On one occasion, my goggles completely filled up with water. Unable to see, I had such a horrendous result that I actively avoided talking to my coach. In another instance, I hyperventilated in the middle of the race, having to stop early and getting disqualified as a result. Those examples don't even account for the races where I felt ready to go, only to simply come up on the losing end. I had no excuse; I just fell short of expectations. As the years progressed, the failures piled up while the successes seemingly hit a wall. Discouraged and devastated, I had many a breakdown on my bedroom floor. “What was it all for?” “Was I always destined to crash and burn?” “Did any of this even matter?” I grew so frustrated with all of those early mornings and endless laps not seeming to matter when the chips were down. I abandoned the pool, festering with resentment for the sport that had seemingly betrayed me. Then, I was confronted by a more challenging question: “Who are you, if not a swimmer?” I hadn't had to face this question in a number of years. I was the swimmer; that's all there was to it. My identity was wrapped up in being an athlete. I took great pride in it because it took all of my effort to maintain that status. But now that I had removed this label, I didn't know who I was anymore. My short-sighted beliefs became apparent to me when I took part in a 24-hour sporting marathon. I was destroyed. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, the whole nine. I was spent. There was NO way I could have the audacity to think I was an athlete after that, when all of my capabilities were stripped away from me. Only by the grace of God did I make it through that marathon, because I had no strength of my own to rely on. However, it was through brokenness and dependency that actually gave me freedom to embrace the future ahead of me. Since my identity was no longer wrapped up in being a swimmer, races didn't have the same hold over me. My worth was no longer determined by the time on the clock. I could swim because I wanted to swim, and I could take pride in putting my best effort forward every time I touched the water. I could race with an attitude of gratitude, being thankful for the opportunities I had to compete against formidable individuals. I ended up returning to competitive swimming for one more year, but honestly, I didn't see any huge improvements in my results. Yet, the shift that transpired during my pause from the sport influenced my whole outlook on life. Swimming taught me that, if I wanted to stay in the water, I needed to embrace the waves. It's an inevitable part of the sport; still water might be a safe place, but it's also a sign of stagnancy. There would be peaks where I felt like I could soar, but there would also be dips where my confidence sank to the bottom of the pool. The key would be to keep steady in the midst of the waves in all of their ferocious power. I learned that it was okay to acknowledge when they've rocked me, but I must remember that my identity isn't defined by my ebbs and flows. I'm a child of an eternal God who far surpasses my immediate circumstances, and in Him can I anchor my true worth. This has been a crucial revelation that I've carried with me into the writing world, particularly in the midst of COVID-19. I can't count the number of times I've heard the word ‘wave' thrown around in the news to signify what stage of the pandemic we're in. But while the presence of waves are a necessity for change, they only represent a temporary phase. I am not defined by illnesses, rejections, or hardships, and neither are you. Together, we can link literary arms to help one another cope with, and get through, this wave. As our favourite animated blue fish says, let's just keep swimming together.
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