Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why Swim?

Swimming is far more than just a sport for me. Swimming is a way of life. Swimming is a part of me, something I live for, something I breathe for, something I am.

For a lot of us, swimming is beyond being just a sport. The time invested in the pool, the blood and sweat that has poured out of us through endless dry land and weight sets. The injury, the overuse, the pain of wanting it so bad, are all things we’re accustomed to. It’s bigger than just being a hobby or a way to stay in shape. Swimming is a part of our identity, part of our lives, part of what makes us, us.

I frequently get asked if I am a volleyball or basketball player due to my height, I just shake my head. My days of those sports are long over. They look at me again and see the shoulders that I try to cover up, “I’m a swimmer,” I proudly say. They always stop, cock their heads and ask, “But, why?”

*I will state that I refer to tennis a few times in this blog. I want to make it known that I am not bashing the sport, as I have once played. Tennis is a great sport and I believe that their athletes are very well trained and do great things.

There are endless number of reasons why I swim. Here are a few:

Swimmers are a little crazy…Takes a crazy person to know one
Swimmers are not your typical conformist who signed up for typical sports like tennis, soccer, baseball. Swimmers accept the lifestyle of having to wake up in the cold, dark of night (while normal people are asleep) and jump into a cold pool and swim laps. Lady swimmers accept the lifestyle of not shaving their legs for months on end, so when you finally get the chance to, you feel so fast, sorry boyfriends! Swimmers accept the lifestyle of always being hungry, cramming food into our mouths regardless of those people who point and stare and make fun of how much we eat, or how loudly our stomach growls. Swimmers accept the sore and achy muscles because we know what we are doing in and out of the water is improving us. Swimmers aren’t in it for the glory and the fans (who enjoys watching swim meets other than swimmers?). So-why do we do it? I still don’t know. I thought this was the point of the blog. You should keep reading. I must say that through all the acceptances we have made in our lives for this sport, it requires the crazy mind of thinking outside the box. For the tennis players of the world, if they think outside the box, they will lose every match. They have to learn how to hit the ball into the little box on the court. Swimmers, however, entrust a passion, a crazy passion to jump eagerly at a new opportunity because that’s how we accept our life.

A good workout clears my mind.
I cannot count the number of times where coaches have dropped an earth shattering practice on me, something I had never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be surviving, let alone complete. But then what happens? We are trained as swimmers, to put good effort in and get results. You not only finish the set, but you leave the pool feeling renewed and accomplished. Whether be one of these “earth shattering” practices or just a recovery Wednesday set, 9 times out of 10, you’ll come out with a breath of fresh air, a renewed and clear mind.

It’s where I go to mediate
Going off of my last reason, no matter what is going on outside of the pool, for that hour or two, you can disconnect from everything. Whether it’s work or school stress, conflict or drama within relationships, swimming gives you the opportunity to shut it out. No cell phone, no social media, no nothing. Just you, the water and the black line.

Goal Setter
In many sports the goal is based on beating the other team. You have no control over how the other player performs. Your team may have given it the best they had, but the other team just out played them, outscored them, the other team won. Swimmers sets goals that are detailed, under their own control and down to the exact detail, whether be how you are going to train or your goal time to the hundredth of a second. In the 200 freestyle, I touched that wall seventh out of eight swimmers, but I had the world’s biggest smile. You want to know why? It wasn’t because I got seventh, it was because I had blown my very specific goal out of the water. Sure, there are swimmers who are faster than me, but having the opportunity to swim next to them in the championship heat and break my goal time by four seconds is simply spectacular. That’s a winning moment for me. Because of this goal setting, swimmers are able to plan and detail orient their lives in other capacities outside of the pool. What I have learned in swimming has created a platform of me being able to set goals for life or work. I don’t think you will be able to find a more goal-oriented person than a swimmer.

No hand-eye coordination
An Olympic swimmer became great by outworking thousands of other kids in the pool and hundreds of other collegiate swimmers. A great tennis player had to work hard, but being naturally gifted for having hand-eye coordination is a very important aspect of the sport. In swimming, more than any other sport, sheer will, determination and motivation outweigh skill. The determination of a swimmer who can log 10,000+ painful yards in one day alone is unmatched. I swim because, yes, I have tried the other sports, the sports requiring hand eye coordination, and you want to know something? I was okay. I wasn’t spectacular, but my will and determination to get into the pool morning after morning to practice a sport that requires significantly less hand-eye coordination, is the sport that I owe my life to.

There is a chance to be extraordinary
I’m sure if I would ask twenty people, everyone would have a different definition of what it means to be extraordinary. For some, being able to swim a 400IM without stopping or having a heart attack is pretty extraordinary, for others, a chance to swim collegiately, internationally, or stand on that podium at the world stage of the Olympics. Everyone has different ways of looking at “what it means to be extraordinary.” I swim because it creates an opportunity for me to challenge myself, to fight through the pain, sweat, tears and discomfort and emerge a stronger, tougher, more confident swimmer.  

And that is why I’m extraordinary. And that's why I'm a swimmer. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Things Happy People Do Differently

Happy People...Find Balance in Their Lives 
Those who are happy have something in common-- they're content with life and don't over think, or stress over, things. Unhappy people do just that - they over think everything and stress over everything causing a lot of pain and unhappiness. This simply means that happy people live balanced lives. They know how to control the busy and the stress without it impacting their happiness. Happy people can focus more on what or who is important to them - family, friends, career, health, religion, hobbies, etc.

Happy People...Express Gratitude 
When you appreciate what you have, you seem to see the world in another light, and be happy. If you aren't thankful for what you already have, you will have a hard time being happy. In Sonja Lyubomirsky's The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life you Want, she refers to the gratitude as "a kind of meta-strategy for achieving happiness."
"Gratitude is many things to many people," she says. "It is wonder; it is appreciation; it is looking on the bright side of a setback; it is fathoming abundance; it is thanking someone in your life; it is thanking God; it is 'counting blessings.' It is savoring; it is not tang things for granted; it is coping; it is present-oriented."  I think Lyubomirsky perfectly described happy people. If gratitude is all of that, that gratitude is happiness.

Happy People...Practice Acts of Kindness
Happy people abide by the rule "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." Happy people embody that and through that rule comes acts of kindness to the fullest. Whether be random acts or just opening yourself up to be a kinder person in life...happy people are kind. Many studies have shown that people who participate in random acts of kindness are profoundly more happy than those who don't. The reason? I think that by having a person interact with another, already boots the happy. Happy people treat others with respect, they are sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others and they show compassion. If this is how you live life, than that is how you will be treated in life.

Happy People...Take Responsibility for their Actions 
This past Monday, it was super sunny outside, which made it increasingly hard to sit in my office filled with windows. 4pm rolled around and I was was bummed I had another hour to work and not be in the sun. So I left and went for a run. It was the best part of my day. The next day, I came into work an hour early to make up for the fact and told my boss. I was straight up with her. I told her I
left to go running. I took responsibility for my action of leaving work early to go do something drastically less important than the work I was doing. I had to tell her, because I'm a happy person and I want her to trust me. Happy people aren't perfect, and we know that. When happy people mess up, they admit it. They recognize their faults and try to improve on them. Unhappy people tend to hold it in or blame others for their faults.

Happy People...Live in the Present
I have had many challenges in life. I had had my heart shattered to pieces and during that time, I obviously wasn't happy. I kept thinking of scenarios, what could I have done differently in this situation to not have this happen? What is I see him again? I was so focused on the past and the future, that I missed the fact I was an emotional wreck in the present. I was an unhappy person, living in everything but the present. Like me back then, unhappy people tend to dwell on the past and worry about the future. Happy people live in the moment and are grateful for the time that they have now. Happy people's philosophy is: "There is a reason it is called 'the present.' Because life is a gift."

Happy People...Savor the Joys of Life
Lyybomirsky states that, "Yet the ability to savor the positive experiences in your life is not of the most important ingredients of happiness." When I went abroad, I had this mantra of saying yes to everything, because in reality, you you only live life once. How many chances am I going to get in life to take months off and go travel and explore the world? I hope many, but that may not happen, so I wanted to savor every moment of every day. I did things that I typically wouldn't do, such as skydiving and bungy jumping. Although I was the most scared I have ever been in my life when I was bunny jumping, I new I had to savor that moment. Savor the fear and the feeling of falling, because that is a joy in my life. The fact I had the opportunity to go abroad and try all these new things created me a strong, happy, woman. So, savor the joys, savor the small things in life, they'll make you happy! 

Happy People...Take Care of Their Body 
Happy people take care of their mind and body and not just by exercise. Happy people actually act like happy people. Happy people smile, are engaged and bring the optimal level of joy to every situation. Healthy people take care of their minds in tough situations by seeking the good that might come from challenging times. According to Lyubomirsky, there is a growing body of science suggesting that religious people are happier, healthier, and recover more quickly from trauma than nonreligious people.

Unhappy people, are you sold yet?

I am 100% confident there are more things that happy people do differently in life...these are just the ones I am comfortable sharing because they are things that I, a happy person, have in everyday life. My question is why are there so many unhappy people in life? Life is a wonderful thing, it's a gift and you should live it. Bad things happen, that's a part of life and growing up, but your quality of life can change dramatically based on how you respond to the bad.

My challenge for you becomes: how do you want to live this gift of life? Do you want to dwell on the past and the bad, or do you want to seek the joy, kindness and compassion of the present that comes with the life of a happy person?