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Going Public

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
– ANDRE GIDE, Nobel Prize Winner

It takes courage to take risks. It takes courage to embark into the unknown. It also takes courage to look within, and then to open up to others and show them your inner dreams. It takes courage to shoot so high that failure is much more likely than success.

This past week, I was privileged to attend an event in which a young person spoke in public. I don’t want to identify this person in writing, and I won’t even say if it’s a he or a she. The person I’m writing about will know, and that’s what counts. During the speech, this person stated their dreams and ambitions, and spoke about the quest to achieve greatness in athletics. As I listened, I realized what a huge step it was to share this private quest in a rather formal way with a roomful of friends and family. I already knew about this person’s goal. The parents knew. The young person knew. Now everyone remotely close to this person knows this goal.

Years before, I had gone through a similar “coming out.” The occasion was the 1976 Olympics. I was 14 years old and was watching the swimming events at home on TV. David Wilke had just beaten another hero of mine, John Hencken in the 200 Breast. It was at the time, the most exciting race I had ever seen. Everyone who was important in my life at the time was in that room when I announced, “I’m going to do that some day.”

Things did…and didn’t…work out as planned. I made the l980 Olympic Team in the 200 Breast, but then we didn’t get to go to the Games. I’ll never know what might have happened. But I had a really wise friend at the time – my Dad – and when I went to college, he gave me a plaque to hang in my room. It had a quote on it, by Jesse Owens, who’s probably the greatest track star of all time. It read, “It’s not the Olympics that make the Olympian, it’s the preparation.”

What my young friend did last week was embark on a quest of Olympian proportions. This person BECAME an Olympian this past week, know it or not. He may or may not ever attain his ultimate goal, but if he tries his best in the preparation, he will not fail. But to reach the goal, this person MUST begin to think like an Olympian. No longer can they think of something average as being “good enough.” They must excel in EVERY aspect of training and of life. Be a better student so that no worries about grades creep up while training. Be a better daughter or son, so that family strength will be there on good days and on bad. Be a better friend so that there’s always a place to go and get away from the pressure that will surely build over the coming years. Be a better athlete, because from now on it’s no longer OK just to go back and forth. From now on each lap becomes a chance to search for a better way. This must ALWAYS be in their mind. Be a better teammate, by becoming a leader. Build up the people around you, so that you’ll always have somebody FAST to race in practice. Be a better PERSON. Think of others first, and it always comes back to you tenfold.

Going public with your dreams and goals is a scary thing. You’re suddenly OUT THERE. You’re committed. You’ll find that some people will do everything they can to support you, while others will laugh. You will quickly learn to follow your own truth, your own mind, your own heart. It’s ALL up to you. But along with the scary part comes the THRILL of accomplishing a goal this big. I’ve told swimmers 100 times that the part I miss the most about competing is the part I dreaded the most WHILE I was competing: the five minutes before a race. The five minutes before NCAA Finals, Olympic Trails, State Championships, summer-league meets. That SCARED feeling of uncertainty, not nervous, not butterflies, but SCARED. The only thing that seemed to help was climbing onto the blocks. When the gun (beeper now, I’m aging myself) went off, it all disappeared, and I was OK.

I miss that feeling of putting it all on the line – of testing how well you prepared. Years of work for two minutes of performance. Do or die through my own performance. I was fortunate to DO a few times, and fortunate enough to DIE a few times, too. Fortunate enough to know defeat so that I can remember the great feeling of success. What I remember is that I succeeded best when I prepared the best, and that I was most confident stepping to the blocks when I KNEW I had prepared well.

Preparing for a lofty goal takes MUCH time. Going public with that goal YEARS before the test of accomplishing that goal is a smart move. It gives you time to prepare properly, but time is a fleeting thing, as any of us who looks back…or who has kids… will know all too well. So the time to start is NOW. Today.

Why did this person stating their goal publicly mean so much to me? Because I recognized a bit of myself in him. And because, in some way, I’ll play a part in his preparation to reach that goal. The pressure is on me now, too. In a sense, we’re BOTH …OUT THERE… and it’s a scary responsibility.

Hey… I’m getting that feeling again… and it’s GREAT to be alive!

I’m so proud of this person already for having the GUTS TO GO PUBLIC. Now let’s GO SWIM!

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.