I remember being 8 years old, standing behind the block for a summer swim meet. We grew up swimming at Hickory Hill and the swim meets were a big deal. They became the highlight of summer.
I remember the pit in my stomach as I waited for the heat to be called and the step up onto the block. I hated that feeling. “Take your mark” would make me shake.
One day I told my Dad about that feeling. What he told me next would be something that became my north star for the next thirty years of every competitive event I experienced.
“That feeling, those are the butterflies. They mean that you care. WHat you have to do it put those butterflies in formation and let them fly.”
I remember stepping up on the block with that image in my mind, and it changed everything. Forever.
Now, I love those final sixty seconds before the gun goes off. I have loved it ever since. It’s the fastest and longest minute of your life. It’s the sixty seconds I completely clear my mind and just visualize those butterflies. I love the feeling of my heart rate ramping. I love the feeling of that nervous energy building up. I love when you catch a competitor’s eye and you both smile, knowing (that’s rare and those people I hold onto forever).
Something so magical happens when the gun goes off. Regardless of the distance or the event you are pulled into the most present feeling you can ever have. A time when you are not thinking about what you have to do in any other area of your life, but you are truly right here and now. For me that lasts whether the event is thirty seconds long or fifteen hours, and it feels like a gift.
I love that feeling of the red mist settling over my body, that moment when the initial adrenaline wears off and the effort of the race sets in. A powermeter of Garmin can’t tell me it’s happening, I can feel it and that’s when I know… we’ve got ourselves a game here.
I thank my lucky stars every single day that my parents put me in the pool when I was three years old. I thank my lucky stars for a Dad filled with wisdom. As a parent you hope your kids are listening and you hope you are the memory they can lean on when they face anything in life. I hope Dad knows that he succeeded.
Somehow Dad knew I had an affinity for competition and that my love for it didn’t come from always being on the top spot. When that started to happen he taught me how to handle it. He taught me how to stay grounded through success and through failure, and he taught me that winning teaches us that some days luck and opportunity intersect, and failure teaches us true humility and how we can be better.
Those final sixty seconds though. I love each one of them, every time I get to be in that position. And all it took? Was someone with the wisdom to share it, and my own ability to be open minded about it.
Want to get me excited and focused? Just tell me to “take your mark”.