Cade and Ella had their regional swim meet on Saturday morning, which they qualified for by swimming in at least two of the regular meets. They were both super nervous. It was not lost on them that this was the biggest meet of the summer (so far), there would be lots and lots of competitors, and lots and lots of spectators. Their nerves were bristling.
Poor Cade, who has really struggled to finish better than last in almost every race this summer, was resigned to the continuation of that consistency. It broke my heart knowing how hard that was on his ego. It also swelled my heart with pride that, no matter how sure of the inevitability of facing the embarrassment of last place in each and every race, he never hesitated to get up on the blocks and compete. Not once. Nor did he give up when everyone else had touched the wall, climbed out of the pool, and he was still swimming. He finished strong every time and even congratulated his friends who had done well. That display of character from my 9-year-old son provided me another small glimpse into the future, to the kind of man he’ll be. And I couldn’t have been prouder.
Poor Ella, who doesn’t struggle keeping up with others nearly as much as Cade, nevertheless had her own opportunity to come up big in the heart department if not on the medal podium. In her first individual race, the 50-breast stroke, she swam free-style. That’s right, while everyone else was swimming breast she swam free… not on purpose, but rather, because she made a mistake. She got disqualified of course, but the real calamity was the embarrassment of swimming the wrong stroke in front of everyone. She came over after the race and had a mini-meltdown in my arms.
Both Yan and I talked to her about not quitting in the face of adversity. We talked about times we had been embarrassed but kept on going. I went through a list of colloquialisms: falling down seven times and getting up eight; falling off the horse and getting right back in the saddle; not dwelling on the mistakes of the past but correcting them for the future; blah, blah, blah. Ella was unimpressed. In fact, she was inconsolable. There was no way she was going to go back out for the next race, the 50-free. No way, no how. She was mortified at her mistake and would just as soon have drowned as face the crowd again after her very public, very obvious blunder.
So Yan and I weren’t sure how this was going to play out. We knew we were both on the same page even without having to say it to each other. We wanted her to face her fears and get back out there. We knew there was great value for her in that lesson. But the only way she was going to get back out there was if she made that decision herself. We could drag her kicking and screaming to the blocks, but we couldn’t make her dive in – and there’s probably a rule against us pushing her in (or maybe even a law). So we empathized with her, encouraged her, and tried to inspire and empower her to make the choice to get back out there. And finally, just as the race was about to start, she walked over to the starting blocks under her own power. She went slowly and begrudgingly and uncomfortably, but she went.
And it turns out, she got really into the competitive aspect of the meet. She missed placing in the top three of the 50-free and advancing to the next swim meet by only a couple of tenths of a second. And then she forgot all about her error in the earlier race. So although she didn’t win, or even place, that race was a total victory for her. She made the decision to fight, to overcome, and to not give in. I was as proud of her as I was of Cade. My kids both showed a heckofalotta heart and demonstrated what being a champion is really all about. Saturday was a day I’ll never forget. And I hope they never do, either.