She’s going to catch you, Bethany. That was all I could hear in my head. You have to swim faster. You have to go faster! You can go faster!
I’m not breathing too heavy. Not sure where my heart rate is at. Am I working hard enough? Maybe not.
Okay, okay, I replied to myself. I can go faster.
My focus goes to my pull. Something isn’t right. Not quite right. I try to let my hand fall into the water in one seamless, fluid motion. Don’t place it in. Don’t let it hesitate. Imagine a hammer hitting your elbow at the top of recovery! Not a big hammer… a soft hammer. That arcade game…what is it? Whack-a- Mole! One of those hammers. Elbow up – Bam! – arm straight into the water. But my arm panicked at the quick entry and pulled back immediately. That’s not what I wanted. That didn’t feel right. My shoulder doesn’t like that. What am I supposed to do before I recover again…?
Why are you still so slow? Go faster!
I am not slow. I told myself calmly.
C’mon now. What the heck is this arm supposed to do when it pulls back? Think. Arm falls in… catch the water. Catch it. Like rolling your arm over that ball, remember? You’re slipping… the water shouldn’t slip around you. Chase the feeling even if you can’t feel it. You know what feels wrong. Just don’t do that. By the time it feels wrong, it’s too late to NOT do it, though…
She’s going to catch you! She is, you know. You’re the leader and she’s right behind you. Any second and she’s going to be passing you. You have to go faster!
This isn’t fast enough. You can’t go fast enough. You never do. What is wrong with you? You work so hard and you never get any better! Never, never!
I sneak a look ahead. The wall is coming up. Aw man, just when you’re working it out, you have to turn. Try not to be crooked in this turn, you nub. C’mon. Somersaults are fun, remember? Fun times! Ha! I can do this!
What are you, five years old? This is serious business! Focus! Why are you so slow? You can go faster! Just move your arms around faster! She’s going to catch you! You’re in the way. You’re always in the way! Any second she’s going to go around you.
I am not slow. I said, again, calmly.
Plant your feet. Both of them. Solid. Push off hard. Don’t forget to kick. Don’t look up. Head down. Streamline. A line in a stream. A fishing line. With a fish! It has to have a fish on it, otherwise it would be slack. Slack is bad. Taut. You want taut and straight. Streamline. But that stream looks so peaceful and relaxed except for that one taut line. And that fisherman, he must have a beer. Maybe he has two. Maybe they’re Guinness. Maybe he’s single.
Helloooo! You’re swimming, remember! You’re not going fast enough. You have to go faster! Focus! You’re really bad at this, you know. You’re just not made to go fast. Why do you even try?
I took mental stock. Oh goodness… I was breathing hard now. Once I stopped, I would be sweating. I feel weird. Nauseous. Yes! That means I’m working hard! Y-eh-es!!! Oh dear. I might throw up on the next flipturn. Oh my. How embarrassing would that be?
She’s going to catch you. Any second now.
“You know,” I said to Deb when we paused between laps at the wall, “I’m really afraid you’re going to catch me.”
We all laughed – Bob and Deb and I. Joking. Laughing. Working hard. Together. They always make me forget that other voice in my head. The drill sergeant. The one who is never pleased with me. The one for whom I can do nothing right. Just enough smiling with them keeps him at bay. It’s good.
“What am I going to do?” She asked. “Grab you by the ankles?”
I laughed, “Well, just let me know if I’m in the way.”
I like this. I really like this. I like her ‘chasing’ me. I know I’m working harder. David had said something about this, once. Yes. He would try ‘like the dickens’ not to get lapped. He was trying to tell me it was a good thing. He was trying to relate this very dynamic to me. Back then, I just didn’t get it. Well yeah, but back then… I couldn’t even finish a Master’s workout! His words were too early, that’s all. When was that? I think it was six or eight months ago that I was finally fast enough to complete my first Master’s workout. Ha! Try ‘like the dickens’! What does that phrase even mean? Where did it come from? Charles Dickens?
And off I go again. Streamline. Keep your head down. No need to look up. Pull yourself through. Catch the water. Ugh. Something’s not right. Let your hand fall in-
She’s going to catch you. Any second. She’s faster than you are when it’s just pulling. She’s faster! She’s going to pass you. You’re not good at this remember? You’re not a very good swimmer. You’re so slow. She’s going to pass you. You’re always in the way. You’re always so inconvenient! Always. Holding everybody up. You’re so slow.
I didn’t argue this time. I just tried to go faster. But I couldn’t work harder. I felt like I had nothing left. I knew I was working hard. I could feel the nausea coming back. Ugh. This is hard in the morning. Going fast is hard. What if she does catch me? What if I am in the way like I always was back on swim team? What if I am still slow?
I hate my life.
The burst of bubbles from my laughter giggled merrily around my face as they sought the surface of the water. I feel I must explain to you, my dear reader, that this mental exchange is typical. And just about the point that I entertain my feelings of insufficiency, I think this exact same thought. I can usually count on thinking, “I hate my life”, at least once per speed workout. It comes at the point where I cannot make my body work any harder and so I can do nothing more to convince myself that I can be faster.
And I always have the same reaction: I laugh.
I laugh because it is simply, entirely, completely untrue!
This is a special moment for me. I feel like I come to that thought and then I turn a corner and, if I just keep going, on the other side is quiet. On the other side is trust. I know that I’ve pushed myself to the limit and hit that “wall” in my mind. Best of all, I know I can keep going. I know I can keep working hard! And I can have fun doing it!
I know that all of those words are not true. I am not slow! I have worked so hard and I have seen so much improvement! Goodness – I’m an entirely different swimmer from when I first began!
I smiled to myself as I continued to swim, thinking of all the lessons I’ve learned from this water. All of the many, many tools I’ve gathered from each and every lap and length and distance; they’ve calmed my heart to an appreciation of a truth about me that I so admire. It is a truth vastly different from the picture the drill sergeant paints. Yes, there is still room to grow and improve. I can get faster. I can swim stronger. I can become more efficient. But not because I’m bad or awful or slow.
I smiled to myself, feeling myself on the verge of some great secret thought. Why then, Bethany? How do you know you can be better, faster, and more efficient? How do you know?
I just know my achievements are not yet equal to my potential.
I laughed again and more bubbles danced to the surface of the water. I wonder… I just wonder what more you can do, Bethany Bosch? What more is in you? To live out my days trying to equal out my potential and my achievements. What a life! Who could ask for more than that?
I continued on in the workout. All those awful thoughts were gone to that place where they go when I’ve used them enough to get myself to work hard. I felt only confidence and only certain determination and only excitement. I continued to swim. I continued to work hard. I continued until the time was done. And you know what?
She never did catch me.