Courtesy of Franco Pacheco
So after my wonderful experience at American Swim Coaches Association Conference and the resulting travel blog, one commenter (there was at least one) suggested that I do a regular column. On the back of that request, I promptly took a month off from writing anything at all and mostly dealt with life’s little details. However, as I sit on an airplane with a particularly adorable yet colicky toddler in front of me and my planned nap is clearly not possible, it might be time to return to the well.
Now, I thought long and hard about what I would like to write about and then I thought even harder about what would even be remotely interesting to the reading faithful at Swimswam.com. I arrived at the realization that I have no idea what would be interesting to someone else. Everyone has stories. That is the human condition. We spend this brief time on our planet and what colors our everyday existence and, moreover, what we leave behind is collection of small snapshots that we share with others. So in that vein, I have decided to share some of my own stories that I have picked up over my last thirty-one years on earth.
In the past decade, I have lived in ten different states. I have worked as a grocery store clerk, cleaned industrial ovens, served in the Army, ran into burning buildings as a local firefighter, and held at least five other unique and yet boring jobs before I finally chose an incredibly lucrative career path as a college swim coach. I have found success, met obstacles, and even seen my share of failure. In fact, I have failed so spectacularly that it could be an entire series of columns alone (my father would never forgive me if that saw the light of day). I have met so many incredibly people that have influenced my life in indescribable and wonderful ways. Plainly put, I am lucky. So these stories are my stories but they are also their stories. Hopefully, they will become stories you can tell, and in that way, life will continue to merge tributaries until we hit a vast ocean.
This particular story pre-dates my coaching career and actually has nothing to do with swimming, so there is that. It does involve a swim coach (me) and ends in a life lesson, so let’s run with it. To set the scene, I was about sixth months into my career in the Army and I was stationed at an Air force base in San Angelo, Texas. Now not to disparage the fine folks of San Angelo, but it was a not a mecca of culture and activity. With base being about as small as a community college and the town around it similarly proportionate, things to do were hard to come by. To leave base, you had to get a cab to town and cabs were expensive and infrequent. Not to shock anyone, but soldiers aren’t particularly well compensated. So often, you got together with your battle buddies and split fair to a central location and walked.
On this particularly hot Texas day, I split fair with two of my best friends Mike and Randy and a couple of other auxiliary characters to do dinner and catch a final four game at a popular wing establishment (advertising isn’t free). The restaurant and the wing place were about half-a-mile apart, so the plan made sense. We had a rather uneventful dinner and headed on our way. It is important to point out that our barracks didn’t have cable, so watching the game back home wasn’t an option; we had to get to a venue for the game. I would further pause to explain the direness of sports to 20-something males, but there are like twenty something (see what I did there?) sitcoms that cover that material.
To make it to the wing place, we had to the cross a bridge. Upon coming to the bridge, we realized that there was no shoulder and walking over it without getting friendly with a car wasn’t likely. So, for safety, we committed to the road less traveled. Underneath the bridge was a lot of tall grass and a small stream. In seeing the stream was definitely jumpable, a decision was made. Clearly we would traverse the tall grass, hop the stream, and be on our way to sports heaven. If that was the end, you would probably ask why I wasted so much of your time, thankfully it isn’t.
There isn’t a ton of things that scare me in this life, but snakes happen to rank among them. I think I am not alone in that thought. So halfway down our hike we came upon a small opening in the tall, waste-high grass. In that opening was a nest of snake eggs. Never has there been a clearer sign to quit while we were ahead, right? We are in Texas where rattlesnakes are the state bird. So there was our dilemma. Was the game worth a snake bite and a hospital trip? In truth, all five of us had already committed to risk our lives for our country and it seemed a waste of training to risk it for a simple basketball game. A rational person would have turned around, paid the money for the cab.
Well on that particular day, there wasn’t a rational one among us. One by one, we arrived at a logic that if we made enough noise and moved quickly enough, we would be totally safe. So after a ten minute “will they or won’t they” suspense montage, we moved out. Instead of moving quickly straight across, we formed a single file line and weaved our way to the stream bank. Take a second with that image because therein lies the humor. Five grown men in a single file line holding onto the backs of one another crossing under a bridge.
Let me end your speculation; no one got bit by a snake. Disaster did, however, strike. When we arrived at the stream, I was in the middle. The key spot to be bitten by an angry mother snake and also the most visible position. Once we got the stream, I watched a very large (6’3, 200 pounds) but spry Randy make the leap no problem. Filled with confidence, I jumped and then landed on a crumbling bank and fell in the stream to my knees. Everyone laughed and a bemused Randy picked me out with one arm and we made it to the wing place. I walked in, caked in mud, but still truly enjoyed a game that went into double overtime.
Now I tell the story not just because it’s amusing. It is. I share it because it’s the perfect metaphor for success in life. Often, we set goals. When we embark on our journey to the goal, we have a set fear of what we need to avoid. Along the way, many an unexpected obstacle will slow us down or worse, stop us completely. If we do make it through, we carry that triumph of overcoming to the ultimate goal and it makes that success that much sweeter. Never be afraid to cross under your bridge because the path can be scary. If you want something bad enough take the leap and once you miss, pick yourself up and keep moving.
That, my dear reader, is the end of this week’s edition. I hope that this will become something we do regularly: what with me sharing a small part of my story and you reading and being completely satisfied. Until then, as Edward R. Murrow would close, “good night, and good luck.”