by Donna Hale
Now that the trials are in the books and the newly crowned and seasoned veterans head for Rio, it’s time to reflect. What an amazing event — the Olympic Trials. So many only really see this every four years. Yet these scenes play out every day and every year in pools all over USA Swimming. Little kids who chase a dream with firey passion and huge hearts. Swimming is the greatest sport on earth.
But it’s not just about the Olympics. That’s just the icing. The sport is really about the little kids with the incredible passion and inspired dreams. Swimming creates not just Olympians. Most of all it creates Champions. Even though I am just a Swim Mom, I have seen a lot over the years. And at the end of the day, no matter how many medals you win it does not make you a Champion. Champions in the swim world are a different breed. You wouldn’t recognize many of these names. But their teammates would. Nearly all possess the same amazing qualities.
First they never give up. They fight through injury, long slumps, and a grueling lifestyle not for the gold but for pure love of the sport. Swimming is in their souls. They just plain love it. Look closely and you’ll spot them at your summer pool with their fish googles and cool caps. You all saw it with Michael Phelps historic 100 fly. They know how to reach deep inside to win when it counts. I saw it two weeks ago with two ordinary teen girls battling it out for a fingertip win in a 50 fly. Incredible to watch and experience.
Second, they are all potential sportsmanship award winners. They greet their teammates and competitors with handshakes, hugs, cheers, and high fives. This is not reserved just for their dearest friends but fiercest competitors. They win with elation and lose with grace. Most of all it’s character that defines them. This was also evident in Omaha. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. But the best moments were the embraces of winners and losers. No other sport – and I believe this – creates same kind of bonds.
Third, they have competitive spirit. They are born competitors that If you beat them you’ll earn every mili second. These champs lighten up any pool deck with their infectious enthusiasm and contagious passion. They are loved by many and carry the torch of swimming to the next generation They are leaders on and off deck. You just wanna know them. Look at Katie Ledecky but also at the kid in lane 6 next Saturday.
Fourth, they are resilient. This is maybe an even greater trait than never giving up. They can swim the worst race of their life. They feel the disappointment of a bad swim. But they know that every new step on the blocks is a new opportunity for greatness and to give and be their best. If a swimmer cannot find this intense will to move beyond defeat they won’t ever be a champion. You do not succeed unless you fail – a lot. You learn and just believe.
Finally – and this is a big one that frustrates parents and coaches – great is never good enough. They work hard and reflect on every race to figure out how to be better. To say that finding race satisfaction is hard is an understatement. Hopefully they do learn and embrace the amazing moments. You can see it in their eyes. That need to dream bigger, fly higher and become better. These my friends are the champions. You’ll not only find then in Rio but in pool next door.
Donna Hale has been a swim mom for 12 years as well as executive of several nonprofit organizations. She volunteers regularly for her daughter Hannah’s USA Team The Potomac Marlins, summer team Burke Station Destroyers, and Lake Braddock Swim and Dive Bruins.