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It’s Still Who You Are

August 17
by
Rachel Zilinskas
in
Faith
with
.

If you read my last post, you’ll remember I emphasized the fact “It’s who you are, not what you do,” that people will remember you far more for your personality and how you treat others than your athletic and academic achievements. 


I wrote that article two months after a rotator cuff repair surgery, and now it is over a year later.  A lot has happened – and not in the way that I thought it would – but, in case you’re wondering, I still stand by this statement wholeheartedly.

When the doctors discussed my surgery, they prepared me for all of the obvious things – the pain, the nausea from the medication, the annoying sling, loss of motion and strength, the months I would spend doing rehab and cardio outside of the pool.  I was prepared; I knew it would be hard, but I just had to get through these several difficult months before I could swim again.

But the doctors couldn’t prepare me for the absolute battle it’s been from the first day I was allowed back in the water after a long four months.

They couldn’t prepare me for the failure I felt when my teammates swam circles around me.  They couldn’t prepare me for the humiliation I felt when I could barely pull my body above the pull up bar in the weight room even with the assistance of resistance bands.  They couldn’t prepare me for worthlessness I felt when I struggled to score a fraction of the points I had scored the season before.  They couldn’t prepare me for the sheer embarrassment I felt when I couldn’t finish practices and had to resort to kicking or getting out of practice altogether.  They couldn’t prepare me for every shameful step I took to the locker room as my teammates carried on in the pool.  They couldn’t prepare me for the crazy thoughts that clouded my head – “Why aren’t you better yet?  You had this surgery 6 months ago, 8 months ago, a year ago.  You should be fine.  You should be normal now.  You are so weak.”

They couldn’t prepare me for the resentment that clouded a sport that I loved so dearly, because trust me, if I didn’t love this sport I would have called it quits a long time ago.

I am an analytical person.  I like organizing information in neat lists and spreadsheets, so naturally, this is how I planned my comeback.  I mapped out a plan with specific goals I wanted to achieve at specific dates.  It was ambitious, but I knew I could do it if I just stuck to my plan and kept the big picture in mind.  Looking back, I have to laugh and shake my head.  If I only knew then how many times my “perfect plan” would be derailed.

The first massive “derailment” occurred about a week before I was supposed to get back into the water.  My mom and I were finishing up a six mile run while I was home in Pennsylvania.  I had just finished telling her how through all the cross-training and kicking workouts, I was finally beginning to feel like an athlete again.  Moments later, I tripped on a protruding piece of sidewalk and fractured my right elbow.  This instance pushed back my start date in the water and kept me out of weight-bearing exercises in the weight room for several more weeks.

Several months later, days before I was slated to return to competition at our first travel meet, I got in a serious car accident.  Luckily, no serious injuries occurred, but my self-confidence was totaled – along with my car.  I still competed in the meet, but these setbacks were starting to take a toll on me.

Still, with the support of my amazing family, friends, and team, I built up the hope and confidence that I would finally compete at the highest level in my sport.

At our mid-season invite,  I put up some respectable times, but I failed to qualify for NCAA Championships, and I was disappointed.  Several months later, I scored in the top 8 for two of my events at the SEC Championships, but the times I put up barely qualified me for NCAA Championships, so again, I was disappointed.  At NCAA Championships, I scored only three points, a small fraction of what I had scored the year before.  So, while I reveled in the absolute joy I felt while my teammates and I celebrated our NCAA Championship win, I was still left wondering – “when am I going to be back to normal?”

As I finally got over most of the physical restrictions left standing in my way and began to make real strides in my training, I’ve built up confidence going into every competition.  I never gave up hope that every meet, every event, would be better than the one before.  After a disappointing swim, I would shake it off and tell myself: “It’s okay, the next one will be your breakthrough.”  Meet after meet, swim after swim this happened.

And while I’ve made progress and had some respectable swims along the way, 16 months after surgery, I’m still waiting for my breakthrough.

I don’t know when this breakthrough will occur.  Some medical professionals have told me that some athletes never get back to the caliber they were before injuries like this.  I will never give up hope that I will come back and be better than ever.  However, no matter what happens, this experience has shown me so many positives, no matter how hard it has been.

My coaches and teammates still treat me as if I am a world-class swimmer even if the scoreboard shows otherwise.  I have learned how to be a better leader through how I react to adversity.  It would be easy to succumb to the bitterness and resentment, but it is far more honorable to rise above it all and honor the precious life we were given.

My relationships with people are stronger and more heartfelt than ever.  There will come a time when I will retire from the sport of swimming, but I will never retire from being a daughter, a sister, or a friend.  So while I will always strive to attain a high level of success, I care more about treating others with love and respect.

Finally, and most importantly, my faith in God is stronger than ever.  No doubt, I’m still an imperfect human being, so I am often overcome with disappointment, shame, and fear.  It still hits me hard every time I look up at the scoreboard and see that I’ve fallen short.  However, after all of these worldly emotions pass, I am still left in absolute awe, praising God for all that He has given me.


For when were are shaken by the violent ups and downs of this life on earth, we can remain grounded in the peace that God provides when we put our faith in Him.


To see Rachel’s first story, please click here.

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