Becoming A Road Map

Since swimming reentered my life I can’t get enough of it, so much so that I spend far more time thinking about swimming than anything else. The first thing I plan to pack on any trip is a drag suit & pull buoy, just in case there’s a pool nearby.

A visit to my aunt’s place in the dead of winter was no exception, except winter in Florida is like summer in New England. Plus, she lives within walking distance of multiple pools, and we’re not expected to clean a single one, ever. So being asked, “Would you like to go to the pool?” has me in a suit and out the door as fast as my coordination allows.

I learned to swim in her backyard pool (& almost drowned a few times) as a kid so she’s used to my unorthodox methods of navigating in and around a pool. Rarely does she ask if I need help, in fact she rarely says anything, probably knowing how much joy I get from the water.

“You look like a roadmap.”

It’s hard to hide anything physical in a swimsuit. So you can see each and every one of my surgical scars.

The nearly 30-year-old SDR incision is well healed, but still one of my most noticeable scars. The bilateral scars on both sides of my legs from the tendon transfers, that at one point during my Catholic school days, doubled as dress code marker since skirts could be no more than 2 inches above the knee. Then there are the most recent scars that run along my outer thighs that look similar yet distinctly different from each other, proof that a surgeon does have a trademark style of closing an incision. Everything down to the scar tissue that marks where surgical probes were inserted during who-knows-which surgery that gave surgeons information they needed.

It’s not unusual for me to try and hide at least a few of my scars, especially for formal occasions. I want (and would rather) people look at me because I look good, not because they’re wondering why I have 2-foot-long scar along my spine.

I don’t care about any of that, 99.9% of the time, particularly when I’m in a swim suit. My concern is following that black lane on the bottom of the pool, as many times as I can, as fast as I can.

I care more about executing turns and streamlined body positioning than if anyone is wondering about any (or all of) of my scars.

I do look like a roadmap. A roadmap that only tells portions of roads I’ve traveled. In reality they’re just visuals left up to interpretation. I’m sure people see me around the pool and feel pity, or sadness, or courage, or a sense of inspiration. I have no idea. Honestly I think I’d rather not know what people think of me.

I know what I need to know, that without these scars that have made me look like a human roadmap I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. I wouldn’t have returned to the pool or found a sense of freedom I’ve missed out on in the not so distant past.

I’ve been asked why I would want to “destroy” parts of myself when I’m perfectly healthy. It’s a legitimate question but the same people who ask such questions don’t know the need for the so called “destruction”.

Each scar was created with the hope of a better future, and in the process I’ve been created to be a map with no known final destination.

It’s like the movies where the main character is given half of a treasure map and needs to find the other half before the story can be completed.

Preparation + Opportunity = Luck

I’ve been spending far too much time watching the Olympics (like most of the 1st world, I suspect) and I’ll keep doing so until the Paralympic closing ceremonies.

(For those of you with Olympic fever and wished the games would last longer, they in fact do, the Paralympics just aren’t on TV as much).

With the Olympics comes a lot of discussion about what it takes to be an Olympian. I think anyone who is an Olympian will tell you that although the destination is the same, the paths can be different. That’s also what draws people to the Olympics (I think), the stories that the athletes have. I still remember hearing about a swimmer who had some kind of respiratory condition that was like the equivalent of an average person breathing through a straw, and he was a world class athlete.

I remember thinking, if he could be who is and do what he does than I have a chance too.

I don’t remember his name so I have no idea what happened to him, but he still comes to my mind on occasion.

The philosopher Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

This has become my philosophy on athletes, especially world class and unknown ones.

People can argue that blessings can get you anywhere you’re meant to be in life but that’s like saying wishing a flight of stairs would turn into an elevator and having it actually happen.

Blessings are great and they do have their place but no amount of blessing is going to make it possible for you to win a gold medal without some amount of training beforehand.

For example, as much as I want to be a world class athlete I have yet to be “blessed” with the resources to even be able to a serious recreational swimmer. But I have been damn lucky and chased every potential opportunity I can come across. I’m not where I want to be but I am putting forth the effort in the unlikely event that one day enough opportunities align themselves to make things a little easier.

It’s nice to call someone blessed but that can downplay the hard work and dedication that goes into achievement. It’s like calling someone an “overnight success” when they’ve been working towards their success for countless years.

Just because you haven’t seen the blood, sweat, and tears, doesn’t mean they didn’t (and don’t) exist.

God is great and everything and unbelievable blessings do happen but not as often as people like to think (not unlike other things in life).

Luck and blessings are real but rarely do they ever come alone. Instead they come mixed in with blood, sweat, tears, disappointment, hard work, early mornings, late nights, busy schedules, sacrifice, and a host of other things you don’t catch on camera.

Sitting On Saints

Catholics have an interesting relationship with saints, we ask for their intersession, visit shrines, we may even stand in line to view their relics (which sometimes includes their actual body).

I admit that I don’t fully understand the significance myself. However, I also need to admit that I have also taken an already misunderstood relationship with saints to a new level.

I sit on them.

(Yeah, you might want to read that again and let it sink in.)

It wasn’t something I was planning on doing, but it just kind of worked out that way.

I made an offhanded comment about whether or not St. Joseph of Cupertino would intercede on behalf of the safety of my wheelchair during flight. Because every wheelchair user has at least one airline horror story that’s wheelchair related. He is the patron saint of air travelers, and I have admitted that I often refer to my chair as a person, so I didn’t think such a question was that far out in left field.

 

And before we go any further, my chair does not share a name with a saint, at least not from what I can gather. Besides, that would be a little too strange.

I had this idea to get a patron saint medal and somehow attach it to my chair. But it just didn’t work out. I might’ve had better luck if I was within walking distance of somewhere that has every patron saint medal under the sun, but that was so long ago now.

It the flurry of preparations for my swim meet the thought resurfaced, although I had no idea if there was indeed a patron saint for swimmers. I knew of St. Sebastian, patron saint of athletes, but I wanted to find something a little closer, if at all possible. Because I really could use all the help I could get, even if I doubted it would make a difference.

There seems to be a saint for nearly everything, until you get specific.

It turns out there is a patron saint of swimmers/swimming, Saint Adjutor of Vernon, who, escaped, apparently swimming to freedom.”

Considering my history with swimming and my goal of not drowning during a race it seemed like a good fit.

I embarked on my original mission, with a different saint, get a patron saint medal and somehow attach it to my chair. However, finding anything on obscure saints is a challenge, and if it isn’t, it costs more money than you want to spend given one’s individual needs.

I got the idea of putting something inside my seat instead. Wheelchair seating typically comes in layers so it wouldn’t be completely out of the realm of possibility to slide something under the cover and leave it there. But if the top layer gets wet it tends to seep all the way through, requiring a complete dismantle of the entire cushion, which is if nothing else, annoying.

I found a workable solution however.

Yup, pictures of saints in plastic baggies.

I slide them into my seat cushion and no one knows any difference (well now you do, because I said something).

There you have it, I sit on various saints, albeit in the spirit of intersession & reverence.

 

Luck Is For The Unprepared

A few months ago I achieved a lifelong dream. I’m not exaggerating either.

I dove into a pool. Nothing unusual really, except this time I dove in after a buzzer.

I (finally) swam in a meet.

When I showed up for my first team practice in the fall I knew competing could be a possibility, but I kept my expectations low. Even when the email was sent with available meets I didn’t answer. Why would someone think I would compete? Why would I expect the “OK” after two decades? I settled for being able to be on a team, that was enough.

It wasn’t until I saw “TBD” next to my name that I thought my coach might be serious about my entering a competition, even still I was prepared to hear “No,” right up until I was at the end of the lane waiting for those three magic words “Take your mark.”

So how did the day go?

There’s a saying, “Luck is for the unprepared.”

If there’s any grain of truth in that at all then I got lucky, really lucky.

I set really low goals for myself for the meet, so low in fact that my coach had to talk me into raising them a bit.

Still, my only goals were to not come in dead last, if I didn’t drown first.

I was planning on swimming in 6 events, which ended up being 5 the day of the event, which ended up being 4 because of a disqualification at the start of one race, which really ended up being a blessing when was all was said and done.

I was happy with how I swam, even if I wasn’t really looking forward to swimming in some events, and would have preferred to swim others. I prepared for what I planned for and planned what I prepared for.

I didn’t come in dead last or drown either.

I prepared myself in any way I could. I scheduled extra practices in a colder pool, because everyone kept telling me how freezing the pool would be. I asked hundreds of questions. I researched and planned my meals. I sought out ways to become faster. I had contingency plans for my contingency plans. I even attempted to desensitize my nervous system to the starting bell.

Being my first meet I needed to get classified first, which included a swim. Having no idea what to expect in that respect I was extremely happy with how it went. I was also happy I invited a friend to come along, because in hindsight I have no idea what I would’ve done without him.

I had some time between my classification and the warm up time so I had something to eat and reviewed the plan for the day, again.

Everyone was right about the pool. It was freezing but I had prepared myself for much worse so I convinced myself that once I got going I’d be fine. And true to form I collided with a teammate, which was even captured on film. As funny as I found the moment I hope “collide with another swimmer” doesn’t end up on my list of pre-race rituals.

I had decided pretty quickly that I should have someone on deck with me so I asked my friend if he would stay on the deck rather than head up to the bleachers. I figured at some point I might need someone to peel me off the roof and if there was one person there capable of doing the job it’s him. I guess that’s what happens when you share so many interests, you’ve been friends for over a decade and he’s peeled me off a ceiling or two before.

Little did I realize how much I’d need him for practical matters, like remembering my heat and lane numbers or when would be a good time to eat something.

My first race was one of my most comfortable strokes but I was focused most of my worry on turns. Short course pool means more turns. If my third race was my first race I think I would’ve been a complete mess the whole day so having a race I was more confident in helped a great deal.

It was after I touched the wall after my first race when I realized how far out of my comfort zone I was and how much I would need to rely on the practice I had put in, pure adrenaline, and my self-confidence.

I couldn’t see a thing (for one). Without my glasses I can’t see much. I didn’t realize just how much until I was somewhere I had never been before, which is a problem when you need to get in the correct lane and/or see the flags hanging over the pool. But it does give me the opportunity to swim my own race, because I can’t see anyone else.

The day went by fairly quickly I think I only looked at the clock (meaning a traditional wall clock) once and made a comment about how it couldn’t possibly be so late in the day (even though I had had a pretty long day at that point).

It was probably a good thing I had the schedule I did for two reasons 1) There was little to no time to think about the details I concerned myself with for countless practices and 2) my muscles didn’t have much time to become too tight, or too loose.

I won’t say that having some of my expectations for the meet met made me happy with how the day went because it’s not exactly true. More than anything the meet gave me a chance to really see what I need to work on for next time, because I wasn’t even out of the pool after my first race before I knew there would be a next time.

Even though I was able achieve a lifelong dream I now know how unprepared I was for the day, even with all of the preparation I had put in. If luck is indeed for the unprepared then I can honestly say I was one of the luckiest people on the planet for at least one day in my life.