I am embarrassed to admit that, for a few years after winning a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I actually resented the fact that I was an Olympian. Of course, I understood that it is a remarkable feat to represent USA, on the podium, in front of the entire world. In fact, it had been a dream of mine for 10 years.
But ironically, months after returning back to Gainesville, Florida, from China, I was craving an identity that other people could approve of. Swimming had been my entire life. How would I be measured now that I was retired? I was lost, and felt washed-up.
Deep down, I had NO clue what I truly wanted for a career, and that terrified me. Success in the pool was great, yes, but now the voice inside my head was telling me that I had to live up to that with whatever I did next. What kind of career would produce those kinds of results? I didn’t want to go into medicine. Not law. Not teaching. Not swim coaching.
My passion was helping people achieve a new level of personal greatness. But how would I ever make money doing that? And did “making money” really equate to success?
I was so desperate for an identity beyond my sport that if the topic of my competing in the Olympics came up, I felt as if I were bragging by discussing my experience — even when I was just answering other people’s questions!
I had mentally downplayed my accomplishment so much it was like it never even happened. A nagging voice continued to convince me that maybe I hadn’t deserved to be there. Had it been it a fluke?
To make matters more confusing, when I was back in Florida, I had felt that some people only wanted to be my friend or get to know me because I had been in the Olympics. No one was rude or using me, but it was unsettling that I seemed to get so much more attention simply because I had competed in Beijing.
I had accomplished things both in and out of the pool for University of Florida already, how did that go unnoticed? Was I not doing enough? Plus, I felt that I had always loved supporting others and making friends along the way. Maybe that went unnoticed, too?
I wanted so badly to be wanted as myself. And even more importantly, I wanted to feel comfortable with myself.
Growing up, I had always felt like I had more to give to this world than swimming. Ever since I was an eight-year old pool rat, it was never about winning or getting ribbons. It was about my friends, my experiences, and running around in my swimsuit until the sun set.
As I got older and kept training, my rewards came from being named team captain, from taking part in motivational discussions, from giving hugs and being part of celebrations.
How could I take these experiences and carry them into my post-athletic life? How could I re-create an environment where I could measure based on whether or not I had made a difference?
I needed a goal. A goal to regain momentum in my life, and to help me redefine what success was. But I had no idea what that was.
Over the next four years, three things happened that helped me finally accept the fact that I am indeed not bragging when I talk about swimming, and actually am taking ownership of my accomplishment, once and for all. And in making peace with my past, I figured out my passion.
Here are those key moments:
1. I saw my bother race in the 2012 London Games.
Watching my brother, Clark, compete for USA in the 200 Breaststroke helped me understand what my experience was like for other people. I was observing from the outside, and it was beautiful: the energy, the atmosphere, the entire world coming together in one city to celebrate the greatest collaborative sporting event in the history of the world.
I was proud, not only of my brother, but for myself and for my family. Finally! It was an emotional moment for me to realize that being an Olympian was not just the product, but rather an extension of my passion, which was celebrating the successes of myself and others.
2. I realized how silly I sounded when I avoided my accomplishments.
I was taking a meeting with some folks from Health Factory, which is a new Paleo Eatery here in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I now live. Mid-conversation, the owner asked me what I do and why. While that’s a simple question, I beat around the bush for three minutes before my friend Caroline had to interject and state my accomplishments.
After we left, Caroline and I bickered a bit, and I knew she was not happy with me anymore. Either I own it, or I stop pursuing this coaching dream of mine. Talk about a wakeup call! I would never encourage my clients to shy away from their proudest moments; why was I doing this to myself?
3. I was ready to move on in a new direction.
Caroline Zwick is to blame for this one. We chatted on Skype, and, as you MindBody readers know, she is magical. A true lifestyle expert, she generated the drive within me to create this blog post. This is the largest step I have taken to do anything in this area, and between her inspiration and the constant positive energy I receive from the group of true friends in my life (you know who you are), I feel like I am ready to use the Olympic Games as a platform … and get going.
What I finally realized, starting in 2012, was that being an Olympian could actually bring me closer to people rather than apart from them, and enable me to relate to them even more as a life coach, just like I did in my age group swimming days.
And that’s been my passion ever since.