Dreams are a scary thing. Hopes, desires, longings; they all open oneself up to the possibility of failure. For in the grandest of dreams lies the deepest of holes, waiting for you to fall. Allowing yourself to dream that impossible dream is allowing yourself to possibly fail, to possibly not reach it.
My heart was slamming against my rib cage as I stood behind the starting blocks. I wiped my sweaty palms for the hundredth time on my legs, and took a deep breath. In. Out.
I knew that my parents were in the stands somewhere, screaming at the top of their lungs as I prepared to attempt to make the Canadian Olympic Swim Team, but I didn’t look for them. I stared into the water and focused on not throwing up. The starter blew the first whistle, signaling us to step onto the blocks. As I stepped up and got into position, I had the most amazing moment of clarity in my life. I realized that I could do this. I could make the Olympics. I was good enough, and I had trained harder than I had ever before in preparation for this moment. “Take your marks,” said the announcer. “You can do this,” I told myself. And I believed it. “Go.” And the buzzer went off.
It was the first week of March in 2012, and the best swimmers from across Canada were gathered in Montreal for the Canadian Olympic Swimming Trials.
Representing Canada at the Olympics has been my dream since I was a little girl. And that year, I was training three times a day in preparation for this meet.
Two days earlier, I failed to even advance to finals in an event I was placed second in the nation in. I choked. But I knew I could not let that stop me. Instead of dwelling on all the reasons why I did not perform, I looked ahead and started visualizing for the one race I still had left, the 50-meter freestyle.
The 50-meter freestyle was my best race; I was ranked first in the nation and I loved swimming it. I put my disappointing race behind me because that was the only thing I could do. The 50-meter freestyle was my last chance at making my dream come true. In order to qualify for London, I needed to either win the event, or place second and go under the FINA “A” Standard: 25.34 seconds.
As soon as I hit the water, I immediately started kicking and moving my arms as fast as possible. Since the 50-meter freestyle is the shortest distance in swimming, there is no room for mistakes. This is a race all about power and speed. I felt smooth and strong in the water, but I don’t remember thinking about anything during the race. My mind was blank, focusing only on the next stroke and the one after that. As I came into the wall, I put everything I had into touching first, and as my hand slammed down on the wall, I knew I had given it my best effort. Out of breath and adrenaline still coursing through my veins, I immediately looked to the scoreboard for my time and place. 25.35 seconds. Second place. I think I was numb with shock as I climbed out of the pool and started walking away.
As I tried to ignore the words she was saying, the reality that I missed making the team began to set in, and I could not stop the cascade of tears that started flowing freely down my face. Knowing what was coming, I quickly found a quiet corner and abruptly burst into sobs that racked my body. All I remember thinking was, “This isn’t fair”.
I missed the cut-off time of the most important race of my career by 0.01 seconds, the smallest margin possible in swimming. I don’t know how long I stayed there for, but eventually I stopped crying and simply sat in quiet agony, asking myself what I would do next and why this happened to me.
My coach found me a while later, and when we locked eyes, I immediately started crying again. Without saying anything, he sat down beside me and put his arms around me. No words were needed, as the despair in his eyes matched the despair in my heart. At that moment, not only had I failed myself, but I had failed my coach as well.
How do you get over something that feels like it’s crushing your chest in on itself? How do you tell yourself that your absolute best wasn’t good enough? In the days after that race, many people told me it was ok to take a break from swimming if I needed it. My coach, my parents, and even my teammates all encouraged me to take as long as I needed before getting back in the water. But my passion for swimming and my love of the sport helped me realize that this failure didn’t define me as a swimmer, or as a person. I got back in the water less than a week later to finish out the season on a high note.
I swim because it’s who I am, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I swim because I love it, and I love being a part of a family that supports one another in our triumphs and failures. When I called my sister that night after the 50-meter freestyle, I felt her pain as strongly as mine as we both cried on the phone to one another. She told me that my entire team had come over to watch the race, and that they were all so proud of me even though I didn’t qualify for the Olympics.
That’s when I realized that the relationships I’ve created through swimming are so much more important to me than the results I achieve. Making the Olympics is my dream, but it doesn’t define me as a person. I will give my absolute best effort on the day of our next Canadian Olympic Trials, and I will know that no matter what happens, I have my family and friends to support me. Sports are extremely terrifying in that way; by allowing yourself to dream big, you also open yourself up to the possibility of failure.
It’s only failure if you do not learn from it; every moment is a learning opportunity, positive or negative. And every day I continue to push myself in the pool and try to break my limits in the pursuit of bettering myself, because that is what I love to do.