If you ask me, I'll always know how many days are left until the start of the Olympic Games.
When I slap the snooze button on my alarm clock and lie in bed listening to the programmable coffee maker gurgle out my morning coffee, I ask myself how I can be better that day. Granted, my first thought is usually, "I'm too tired to get out of bed today" because I'm the epitome of a non-morning person.
But after I shake off the initial shock of waking up to another day of being sore and tired, I remember my goal and how hard it will be to achieve, and how I can't afford to waste time being negative. Every day I want to eat better, stretch more, kick harder off the wall. Every morning I have to beat the girl who went to bed the night before.
My mom always asks me how and why I do it. It's her way of telling me that she's proud of me. She was never really a huge sports fan, and has always had more appreciation for a beautifully written book than a play worthy of the highlight reel. But one thing she understands, because I inherited this from both my parents, is hard work. I usually laugh it off when she insists that there is "no way" she could ever do what we as Olympic athletes do every day: the training, the sacrifice, the painful injuries, the stress.
Last weekend, however, I finally started to really think about my mom's question: why, really, am I doing this?
The answer was an epiphany, and I don't know how I never saw it before: I don't have a choice.What, me quit?
I don't mean that I was forced into this sport by anyone other than myself, but even when I was injured and came the closest I ever have to quitting, I was probably only 30 per cent of the way out the door. From my club swimming days in my hometown of Stratford, Ont., to the grueling balance that is life as an NCAA student-athlete, to adjusting to my new life at the National Training Centre in Victoria, I have always felt like this was just something that I had to do.
Even on my worst days, when I complain to whoever will listen (my fiance is usually my go-to victim), the question that eventually comes up - "Well, why don't you just quit then?" - is laughable. Quit? Me? I can't possibly, because this is what I was meant to do.
And that's the answer I finally gave to my mother: I put in the hours and continue to swing my tired legs over the side of my bed even when I just want to keep sleeping because swimming is who I am, to the core, and competing is what I'm meant to do. Call it fate, The Force, or God's plan. Whatever it is, it's stronger than instinct.
I never thought that I needed to answer my mom's question, but now that I have, a sense of calm has come over me. At the end of the day, I'm not doing this for some sort of grand reward, and I know that in my heart. That being said, I'm sure that between now and the Olympics there will still be stress-induced meltdowns that end with me sobbing on my kitchen floor. But I truly believe my new-found perspective has made me that much stronger.
And so, I stay the course that began when I decided to join my local swim team when I was eight. This road has been under construction for almost 17 years now. There have been lots of potholes, but eventually it takes me where I want to go. I'll just have to see where the road will end in July.
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