I would like to dedicate this post to Wallingford Elementary School. They invited me to speak this past Friday, October 3rd and it was one of the best experiences of my life. The school theme for this year is Perseverance and I was asked to come and speak about my English Channel Swim as a part of that. I pondered the topic for a while. I mean… how can I help a school full of children to learn to persevere? I was delighted to come up with the following four elements of perseverance and it seemed like a revelation well worth sharing. This is basically the presentation I gave to WES, modified slightly, and without some of the swim details and facts or video presentation I made for them.
On September 1st, 2014 at about 4:40 in the morning, my hand turned around in its normal swimming stroke and struck something. Sand. It was the sand of a French beach! I was so excited, I jumped to my feet. I had been swimming non-stop since 11 am the morning before when I left Shakespeare Beach in England. I hadn’t ever left the water since starting. I hadn’t had much to eat. I hadn’t spoken to very many people. It had been dark in the sky and black in the water for hours upon hours after the sunset. I had been fighting the cold, cold sea and navigating her very strong tides with my boat and crew beside me… just swimming… turning my arms around and around and around… I had been very, very sick for most of the night.
But when my hand touched the sand, I knew I made it. I knew that all my hard work was worth it. I had persevered and it got me to the other side.
I’m sure you all know what Perseverance is by now. The dictionary defines it as:
- steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
It’s kind of easy to define perseverance, but how do you get it? Where does it come from? I was thinking about it and I came up with four ways that I found perseverance within myself. It came gradually. It took years of making myself strong. Not just physically strong – I developed strength of heart, strength of mind, strength of body, and strength of spirit.
- Strength of Heart
Most things begin with your heart… with something you love. I always loved swimming and I always loved the water from the time I was just a kid. I got discouraged when I wasn’t very fast. I thought that made me a bad swimmer. But you know what? You don’t have to be fastest. You don’t have to be the best. If you love to run or do cartwheels or shoot hoops or to paint or write or whatever… don’t compare yourself to others, just do it because you love it. Because you love moving and just being who you are and just playing and having fun. I stopped doing sports because I just thought I wasn’t good at them. I even stopped swimming for a long time. A few years ago, I started to swim again and I remembered that I loved being in the water. It was fun! I wasn’t fast, I wasn’t super great… but I just loved the water and I loved moving and I loved seeing how far I could go. I swam 25 laps, then 60, then 100. When I swam 400 laps in the pool one day, I thought I should train for something. When I swam 8 miles and 10 miles… I thought that maybe, just maybe I could swim 15 or 20 miles. If I could do that, maybe I could swim the English Channel.
So you see, I didn’t start out thinking that I was going to swim the English Channel, I started by just doing something I loved. I loved being alone with my own thoughts for long periods of time. I just love the way the water moves around you… and as I grew in my experiences, I grew to love it even more. I worked at my love by swimming in new places and with other people and through challenges, whatever I could do to keep my heart strong, to keep my love from getting tired over time.
- Strength of Mind
Love is a great catalyst and a good start for things, but just loving swimming wasn’t quite enough. I began to realize how truly huge a goal swimming the English Channel was and I needed to know more. I needed strength of mind. I needed to train better and I needed to know how, to know more about swimming, and to know more about me in general.
I needed to know the English Channel rules. I needed to know the English Channel facts and stats. I needed to know the English Channel qualifications. I needed to know how to train. There was a lot to learn.
But I began to strengthen my mind. With understanding. With wisdom. With facts. I read about people who swam the Channel and I spoke to people who had. I met my coach, David, and he was a wealth of information about swimming and training. I went to training camps, I went to classes, I worked with coaches and nutritionists and doctors and physical therapists. I was always learning about swimming. Always learning about my swimming. Always learning about myself.
I needed the strength of mind so that when I got into the water, I was as prepared as possible to handle anything that came my way.
- Strength of Body
Love begins it and naturally guides you to want to know more about something. But then you have to practice and apply things and make your body able to do the task before it. Practice your technique. Work on your endurance. Take good care of yourself. Even if you aren’t doing something athletic, it’s so important to eat right and get enough rest and keep yourself balanced and strong. Your body is what gets things done.
I took my list of all the training I needed and I began to check them off, one by one. I made my body strong through my training. I learned how it behaved when it was cold. I learned how it behaved when it was tired. I learned to keep swimming even when I was sick or hurt. Sometimes the best thing for my swimming was not to swim! Sometimes I had to strengthen myself in other ways.
I applied everything I learned and I worked and worked until I was faster, until my body could tolerate cold better, until I was stronger, and until I fueled myself properly with the nutrients I needed to perform.
I thought it was funny how the more strength of body I had, the more strength of mind and heart I had. They all work together. They all feed each other and you are that much stronger having all the components of your person contributing to your dream.
- Strength of Spirit
I have learned that the glue for the three other parts of perseverance is having strength of spirit. At some point, anything that’s worth doing that’s hard… will be hard. Your strength of heart will be challenged and you might want to stop just because you don’t feel like continuing. Your strength of mind will be challenged and you might not know what to do or if you can keep going. Your strength of body will be challenged and you might be hurt or be sick.
I learned over the years to have faith that my life can make a difference. I’ve learned that my life is beautiful. I am important. I have purpose. There are things on this earth that I can do that will really change things for the better. I found that swimming can do something good either by raising money or awareness or by inspiring people. And when I needed encouragement or felt that things were hard, I would think about all the good my life can do. I would think about all my friends and family who love me just because I am who I am. I don’t have to make it across the ocean to know that I am important… but I knew I could make it across the ocean because I can. I would remember that I can keep going because I believe in me.
I hope that you believe in you, too.
Each of our lives can make a difference. I believe there is something good and amazing and excellent out there for each of us to do, whether it’s big or small. When you get tired or think it’s too hard or don’t know what to do… just remember that your life is valuable. You can do something good. You can make a difference.
That’s a strength that nothing can take away and can carry you wherever the tide takes you.
There you have it, my lessons about perseverance over the course of my English Channel journey – that it is a whole being pursuit; heart, mind, body, and spirit. Perseverance requires strength inside and out. But maybe, just maybe you’ll love so deeply and passionately that you’ll stay curious and open-minded and tend to your body the way you ought to in whatever pursuits you feel called to undertake. Maybe you won’t notice how strong you’ve become.
…until you look in the mirror one day and see a person who can do anything.