Why I Almost Quit Swimming, and Why I Didn't

22 Mar 2012 10:35 AM | Deleted user
As the 2012 Summer Games draws closer and the swimming trials for the Aussie athletes have passed, it's easy to forget about the committed Canadians who are trying to get to London. Here is a great blog that gives us regular folk an insight to what goes through their minds.

Julia Wilkinson achieved a life-long goal when she competed in the Olympics in 2008 in Beijing. But she struggled to deal with the letdowns, emotional and physical, that followed. 

As the Canadian Olympic swimming trials draw closer, I find myself reminiscing more and more about the 2008 Games in Beijing.

On one hand, it seems like no time has passed since I was flying from Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston to Montreal with dreams of qualifying for my first Olympic team.

My Texas A&M teammates threw me a "good luck" surprise party, and gave me a poster with the Olympic rings drawn on it and little notes from each of them. I still have the poster. In fact, it's hanging in my bathroom in Victoria, and I read at least one of the messages every single day. Today when I was looking at it, I couldn't believe that, in just over two weeks, it'll be time for good luck all over again.

If I close my eyes, I can still picture walking out for my 100-metre backstroke final at the Olympic trials four years ago. And yet, it was a lifetime ago because so much has happened since I hit that wall first and was named to the Olympic team.

I was so excited, so naïve. I think I believed that the skies would open up and my life would all fall into place now that I was "going to the Olympics," the single goal I had chased to my entire life. While other kids were telling our elementary school teachers that they wanted to be singers or doctors or whatever was fancying them that particular day, I never wavered. From the moment I started swimming competitively when I was eight years old, I wanted to be an Olympian.

Life goes on

So you can imagine my shock when I returned from the Olympics and found my life to be essentially the same as it was when I left. Only this time, I had no concrete life goal. I still had one more year of eligibility at Texas A&M, so naturally I knew I would keep swimming. But otherwise, I felt a bit lost.

To make matters worse, within my first week back in the pool, the nagging shoulder pain that ailed me the previous season had come back with a vengeance. It only took one MRI to let me know that it wasn't, as I had believed for an entire year, tendonitis. It was actually a SLAP (Superior Labrum from Anterior to Posterior) tear in my shoulder, large enough to require surgery. On October 2, 2008, less than two months after I had stood on the blocks in Beijing, I went under the knife with the hope that it would save my swimming career.

Since I'm sitting here today, writing about the upcoming Olympic trials, you all know how that story ended. I was able to regain full use of my right shoulder, although it still likes to remind me, once in a while, that it's much more of a diva than my left. My point is, however, that after the skies did not open when I made the Olympic team and I returned home only to be put in a sling on the sidelines, I lost it a little bit. As my mom would say, it was a bit of a "cluster-you-know-what."

During those months when I couldn't train, I spent a long time trying to figure out what exactly I was swimming for. Was I doing it for the wrong reasons? I hadn't left the Olympics as a celebrity because, let's face it, seventh in the world is good, but it's not picture-on-a-cereal-box good. I did not want to believe that I was working so hard every day because I wanted celebrity status. Heck, I should've just tried out for an MTV reality show if that was what I wanted.

Through the trenches

It's taken me a long time to realize something that is probably very obvious to many. What an athlete gains from going to the Olympics does not come during those two weeks in the village. It's not even in that moment when you're officially announced onto the Canadian team.

It's every moment before that. Every time you roll out of bed when you feel like you've been hit by a truck. Every time you push yourself in a workout to the point where you need to run to the closest trash can and throw up. Every time you decide to pick yourself back up off the ground.

When I was injured, I was in a very negative place and giving up seemed like a viable option. I had already been to one Olympics. Why did I need two? But somewhere within all that negativity there was a little voice that was whispering to me about the Olympic podium. That's more than a goal. It's a responsibility that I feel to myself, and to everyone who helped pick me up when I was down. To the taxpayers who fund our sport and want to see us bring home medals. I could not give up.

So, yes, it's strange that the Olympic trials are already upon me again. But I'm not the swimmer I was four years ago. Not even close.

I've been through the trenches now, and I've collected enough bullets so that I can shoot back.  

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