Tyler Harris is a former All-American at North Carolina and will be the 4th seed at the upcoming Olympic Trials in the men’s 400 IM. That means a prelims lane next to Ryan Lochte. But Tyler is keeping the experience in perspective. Read his open letter to the swimming community ahead of next week’s meet in Omaha – the message reaches into the heart of swimming and strikes the essence of the sport.
Let’s take a step back in time, a stroll down memory lane if you will. Remember the first time you ever competed in an athletic event. It doesn’t even have to be swimming. In fact, I’m ultimately not writing about swimming today. What thoughts were flooding your mind? If it was a race, all you desired was to get from point A to point B as fast as you could. If it was soccer, basketball or anything of the sort, simply put the ball in the goal, the puck in the net or knock the baseball out of the park. It was that simple. It was that fun. We were living in the NOW.
As I’ve aged and progressed through the stages of this grueling sport, life seems to develop into a far more complex entity. What used to be going from A to B now seems like “I want to go from A to B in order to achieve C, which results in D.” However, “if I don’t do E before the race, I won’t reach D.” We measure success not in terms of life’s success, but rather achieving “D.” There’s something that seems a little off with this course. What’s the point of “doing” if the result is always put in terms of winning and losing, achievement and failure? It’s an emotional roller coaster that I have pondered for years.
One can observe how this “win and lose” method of competition has evolved into a critical component of Western Hemisphere lifestyle. We compete for scholarship. We compete for the higher grade. We compete for attention. We compete on X-Box. Our society marks favorites, so we compete for fame and attention. When all the money, medals, certificates of excellence, physical appearances, records and fame are stripped away, there’s not much that separates the “best” from the “worst,” titles used to convey our cultural identities. So, what have we to now fulfill achievement, or what expectations are there to place upon ourselves and others?
Fellow athletes, all I ask for is a genuine effort with the following proposal. Let’s celebrate ourselves this next week. Let’s enjoy the moment, because in the end, that’s what swimming is all about. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, what will you have? Maybe you’ll have a medal or a spot on the Olympic team, but what will you REALLY have? We are all too often caught off guard by expectations, the fear of failure and the sweet taste of victory. However, think about what you’ve done to put yourself in this position. Each and every one of us has matured in our lives in order to reach this stage. I challenge everyone to relax. Take a moment to think in the third person; take an outsider’s perspective. Everyone has something to be proud of, “win or lose.” In fact, “win or lose” is not the approach to take. At the end of the day, the way you carry yourself and living life to the fullest are the ways to view success as a person. We’ve stretched and grown because of each race. We learn from the past and become a better person. I may or may not be in a position to make the Olympic team, but I will never allow making or missing the team to define the legacy of who I am in life.
In no way am I attempting to downplay the excitement of this summer. In fact, I find myself appreciating everyday for the opportunities given to me. Monday through Saturday I train alongside some of the finest, most driven and remarkably talented athletes this sport has to offer. However, I primarily view them from a different angle. First and foremost they’re genuine, caring and incredible people. Their support allows me to be great, not only in the pool but outside the confines of swimming as well. As swimmers, our “blue collar” work ethic fosters comradery and requires sacrifices, so take pride in YOU. Swimming helps us strive to be the best we can be, and we make others the best they can be in the process. Yes, that’s right. The people we view as competitors are part of the journey, helping to guide our maturing intellect along the way. They’re making you successful in the game of life. You can view them as enemies for motivation, but they’re just facilitating your passage through life’s obstacles.
Fifteen years since my first competition, the reality of this sport (or should I say life) finally dawned on me. It’s not about swimming; it’s about what swimming represents to each person. For each of us, swimming is an apparatus that is utilized to fulfill our individual potential in the broad realm of existence.
So with that said…. have fun, look forward, and most importantly, enjoy the NOW.