Day by day, swimmers trudge on. They endure the thankless loneliness of training… the agony and pain that just keeps coming. The drudgery that goes along with the agony makes this one of the toughest sports, physically and mentally.
Chasing a ball, or running around a track, or even hitting someone across the line from you, brings tremendous pain if you’re training to be the best, but the mental part of those sports is ever changing, and involves so many senses that it’s easier to be engaged in what’s going on. So many other sports demand your attention, because the consequence of lethargy or non focus can be so direct. Relax while running a pattern in football, and the defender will lay you out. Relax waiting for a ball in baseball, and as it rockets off the bat toward your head, the impact will leave a mark for more than a couple days. Relax, or become bored in swimming, and really… nothing is going to happen to you… except mediocrity.
Swimmers need to be a special breed… the type of person who can shut out so many senses and focus solely on a dulling, numbing pain, watching the same line, seeing the same wall, and hearing the same droning splash over and over again for hours, days, months and hopefully… if you’re successful… decades.
If you’re a competitive swimmer, what do you do to keep yourself engaged, and what’s the sense that can keep you focused the most? Agony. I know… sounds horrible… but it’s the suffering that hardens your body and soul to the point that you create a stronger human than you expected.
While we focus so much on the greatest athletes, and especially here at this site, we take much pride in all the Olympians we’ve had a chance to work with… understanding their agony is easy. If you watch really cool action sports videos, it’s always more exciting and inspiring to see an athlete in agony win or become victorious. It’s the relief that comes after you’ve really put something on the line that is the most fulfilling. The thought that you put so much on the line, you actually had something to risk… that’s living the life of an Olympian, even if you don’t make it that far.
Going through it is amazingly difficult. Some swimmers have to sacrifice performances in the middle of the season to reach their goals at the end of the season. They live in agony day after day, and then go to meets while still sore and tired. They get on the blocks, and don’t swim fast. They then hear questions from people who may not understand agony in this fashion. Their work actually gets questioned for a lack of performance, rather than the understanding that they’re working SO hard that they simply have nothing left at this point. Those athletes are keeping the long-term goal in mind, rather than risking it on a short-term feel good.
Living in agony day after day is lonely. It’s more difficult mentally than physically. In other sports, athletes receive constant feedback from coaches and teammates. "LET’S GO BUDDY… HIT THAT DUDE!" can come every 15 seconds. What if you’re doing 10 x 400s? You won’t have any interaction with anyone for at least 4 minutes… and then… it’ll only be for a few seconds when you’re at the wall with a teammate after they come in and you have to leave. Both of you struggling to get a quick sip of water, or a deeper breath… oh… and listen to your coach in those few seconds… "rotate more to your left," "keep your eyes down," "you call that streamlining? My dog streamlines better than that!" Then you’re off again… all alone… just you and your agony.
You, as a swimmer, have to understand… we’ve all been through this. There has never been a great swimmer who wasn’t exactly where you are in those moments. To the point of tears… but all alone. Making it through these times, when the training is the toughest, and the races are the slowest, that makes you an athlete… that makes you a champion… even without the medals. Only people who don’t really understand that it’s not medals that make champions… because overcoming and/or embracing your agony IS what you have to understand to become your own champion… and until you do that, you won’t have any clue what I’m talking about. You’ll read this as just words on a page.
Take pride in your agony, and seek it. Making your country’s Olympic team is a great goal, but it’s only a byproduct of agony for those fortunate few who were given the ability to be really good at the sport of swimming, and who embraced that agony. If you don’t reach that height of the sport, you’re only missing a small part of the entire experience. Feel the pride on a daily basis of experiencing what our great champion swimmers experience.
Agony is your quest, and if you picture yourself in a suit of armor coming to the pool, on a glorious white horse to attack your agony, and overcome it, and leave victorious that you didn’t let it beat you… then you’ve lived the life.
Now… just do that every day, and you’ll understand. When it’s all over… it is actually a glorious feeling that you’ve made it through.
Go get it.