As a junior at Boston College, I have watched keenly three generations of seniors step up to their final, fateful block. It’s nearly the same scene every time. They perch on the block, and a hardly attainable goal that once rested on their minds abruptly awakens. I can see it clearly, hounding at their brain to find every last ounce of strength during its final chance at reality. Instinctively, the buzzer launches them forward into the water. While the fundamentals of their race mirror the thousands of races of their past, something still seems different. Each stroke has a new purpose in its movement, driving them toward dreams of an ever-higher, nearly unreachable achievement. As they turn for their final lap, I can see the passion in their kicks whip up the water behind them into a white froth of fury. Suddenly, after a moment’s touch of the wall, their time is up. They hesitate briefly before looking at the clock, the pure heart within them resonating in their bright red faces. And yet, as they see the final judgment, they often rip off their goggles in disappointment.
Think of your final race.
Perhaps as you opened your eyes toward the clock for the final time, your dream became reality. If you’re like most swimmers, however, it probably didn’t. And that’s a good thing. You see, our entire sport is focused on goal setting. When we achieve a goal, we set a new goal. When we achieve that goal, we set the next goal even higher until it eventually sits just out of reach for us, yet suddenly in sight for those who follow in our footsteps.
The harsh reality and underappreciated beauty of this sport is that we can never be satisfied. If we were, this sport would not advance. It is these ever-greater goals and impending failures that are so significant to the success of our programs.
I look at the seniors who have been leaders and role models to me for so long, and can’t help but smile at what they consider failure. Andrew Stranick, for example, who came in as a freshman with his eyes set on the 57.44 100-yard breaststroke school record from 1993, looked disappointed as he touched his final wall in a time of 55.11. Even Nick Henze, who had taken two full seconds off his own 200-yard freestyle school record the night before, sat in silence after he fell just short of reclaiming the 100-yard freestyle record.
Don’t you swammers see?
In your own disappointment, you have achieved a victory larger than yourself. It is your own expectation of greatness to the point of unattainability that sets a precedent of higher achievement to those who follow. By always expecting more of yourself and your teammates, you inevitably face failure yet simultaneously create a legacy of success.
I think I speak for all of us swimmers when I say thank you: thank you for expecting greatness; thank you never being satisfied; and thank you for making us goal-crazed swimmers too.
So please don’t put your goggles down in disappointment. Rather, hand them down to those of us that have looked up to your value of betterment for so long, and know that you’re responsible for the success that follows.