Sunday, June 28, 2009

So that's why I never made my Junior National cut

I started swimming competively at age seven.
If you ever swam for a U.S.S. club team than you know that you only get two weeks off per year. Depending on your talent and commitment level, you swim at least six days per week and often times, double workouts three to four times a week. You're in amazing, kick ass shape. For women like myself, your shoulders will never be bigger and your back will never intimidate any punk teenage jerk as it does then.

At that age I never dreamt of a career other than that of an Olympic swimmer. I wanted to be the next Jenny Thompson in the 100 fly. Medaling was less my aspiration; being a part of the Olympic Games was the ultimate goal. But as the years progressed it became quite clear that that vision of success was not to be mine. In the eight years since I stopped swimming competitively I've often wondered if my illusions of aquatic grandeur were doomed from the beginning and I was just damn good at fooling myself of my rather average capabilities. I've found that it's pretty f*ing hard being honest with one self about mediocrity, especially when I pursued swimming as a single-minded pursuit all those years.

So there I was today on the Shinkasen bullet train, traveling from Hiroshima to Shimoda, reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success, when a long overdue reality check hit me. Gladwell - in case you're not familiar with the book - argues that if you want to understand why very successful people got to where they are today, we should spend less tim focusing on their intelligence and ambition and more at "looking around them - at such things such as their family, their birthplace, or even their birthdate." These elements shape a person's potential for success in life, and often times more so than their innate gifts.

My point?

Gladwell points out that many of our most talented humans, including Bill Gates and Mozart, were surely gifted intellectually, but what set them apart was practice.

Thus, I began to reflect on my commitment to the pool. Six days, 14 hours/week, 50 weeks/year on average from the age of 12 - 19. That seems like a lot, right? But compare that to some of the other club swimmers I was up against. They were swimming as much as 10 times/week, 25 hours/week. That makes a HUGE difference in a kid's muscle development and much, much more.

I can't say how my performances would have faired with nine more hours per week but I'm fairly certain that I would have been better than I was. Practice, in other words, makes perfect - as they say - but the best of the best practice THAT MUCH MORE than the rest of us. And THAT is what makes the difference.

(Image via Swimming World)


  1. I think you are a great swimmer (and instructor!)

  2. I was a freshman at Cal when Jenny Thompson was a freshman at Stanford. I was visiting my best friend Lauren at Stanford, and we went to visit another friend of Lauren's in another dorm. In the dormroom was the big blond chick from New Hampshire (significant because Lauren and I had just come from Exeter). She was talking about this swim practice she had just been at where after every few lengths of the pool, they had pricked her finger to test her blood. That's all I remember. That was my 10 minutes with Jenny Thompson. Everyone knew she was a big deal then.