If Dara Torres could win three silver medals in the Beijing Olympics as a 41-year-old mother, you can achieve your dreams as well. Here’s how she worked through pain and uncertainty:
If there’s one thing I’ve learned trying to stay in a young person’s game through middle age, it’s that life is never as simple and straightforward as you think it’s going to be. If you really love people and go for big dreams, life is going to be messy. No matter how carefully you plan ahead, a lot of what happens is still beyond your control.
As I’ve said, I’m a type-A person (okay, A+ +). I put as much energy into beating back the chaos of daily life as anybody I know. The backseat of my car, where Tessa rides, is not filled with Cheerios. The food in my pantry is organized. My books are arranged by height on the shelf. But still I can’t control the really important things. My loved ones still get sick. Sometimes they even die. And in my experience, these things often happen at precisely the times when I’m hoping to tune everything out and swim.
Like most swimmers, swimming gives me the feeling—really, the illusion—that life is orderly. The pool is (almost) always 50 meters. The water is (almost) always 79 degrees. The starter always blows a series of short whistles. Then he blows a long whistle. Then he fires the starting signal. There are always eight swimmers in each race. The top-seeded swimmer is in lane four. The length of the race is determined in advance. The person who touches first wins.
But that’s not what real life is like. Real life is unpredictable and sometimes even unfair. For that reason, one of the most important skills for a competitive swimmer is the ability to leave whatever’s going on in your personal life outside the pool. Some athletes compartmentalize, others vent. There is no one right route. Still, you need to know how to deal with your emotions in order to perform. Because if your emotional house is not in order, it doesn’t matter how hard you’ve trained. Nobody cares how fast you swim on your best day in practice. Swimmers need to swim fast at meets, and those are scheduled long in advance.