The London Olympics have gotten me thinking about defining moments. Those events or occasions that build your confidence in what you’re capable of and made you see yourself differently.
For me, such a moment happened when I was nine years old and swam on a neighborhood swim team. I was a mediocre swimmer when I joined the team, but I steadily improved with hard work and practice to become one of the stronger freestyle swimmers in my age group. I loved swimming freestyle and often participated in both the individual events and the relay races.
My brush with glory came during one of the most important meets of the year. There were different divisions for the kids’ swim teams: named red, white and blue respectively. My team was in the white division and working to move ourselves up to the red. Every meet counted and we needed to win a majority of our meets if we were going to move up. I was signed up to swim in several freestyle events and slated to be the anchor for the 4 x 100 medley relay. The score of the meet was very close with only a few events left to go as the all-important medley race approached; the pressure on my teammates and me to pull out a victory was building.
When the gun went off and the butterfly swimmers took to the water, we knew we had some stiff competition. I also noticed during the race that some of the other team members were jumping off the blocks into the water before the swimmer before them had touched the wall. My parents were sticklers for playing by the rules and instilled in me that cheating never paid off—that you couldn’t feel good about your accomplishment if you cut corners because you wouldn’t know if you’d really earned it. While I was a little concerned about what I was seeing from the other team, I had confidence in my swimming abilities and believed that we could still win playing by the rules.
The anchor on the other team was off the block a few seconds before I was, once again before the previous swimmer was all the way into the wall. I made sure our swimmer touched and as soon as she did, I launched off the block. The other swimmer had a couple of strokes on me and I knew I had to make up the time so I decided I wouldn’t take any breaths. I swam harder and harder. At first, I was lagging behind and I momentarily panicked before realizing that I was gaining on her. I was motivated to win since I knew we’d been following the rules and I wasn’t about to let my team down. I was hoping I could get a couple of arm lengths ahead of my competitor, but I couldn’t. We swam the last few strokes neck and neck. I hit the wall with my hand and got out of the water. I stood there for a minute unsure who had won the race. I was confident I could do it, but was also preparing myself for the reality that I might not have quite pulled it off. The lane judges conversed and finally one of them came over to me smiling. She said, “You won. You beat her by 1/10th of a second.” She leaned over and showed me her stopwatch. I was overjoyed we’d played fair and won the big meet. For how excited I was, I may as well have just won an Olympic gold.
My fellow relay team members were with the rest of the team and their families awaiting the results. As the news that we’d won sunk in, I turned and smiled and ran towards my father. The team erupted in cheer once they saw my expression. When I got to my dad he picked me up and tossed me in the air. He told me that he’d seen I’d swam a fair race and was proud of me for competing with integrity and for giving it my all and not giving up.
As a parent, I reflect on what I learned that day about myself and can’t wait for my children to have their own defining moments in sports and in life. I look forward to watching the incredible athletes of the 2012 games and talking to my children about the importance of hard work and competing with integrity,
What was your defining moment?