Micha Shaw

Silver Lining In These Trying Times

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Micha Shaw won the USA Swimming national open water swimming championships in 2008, qualifying for the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim qualification race. She upset eventual two-time Olympian Chloe Sutton and a number of other top American swimming stars in the race – and thought she was on her way to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But Shaw was not selected, absolutely crushing her Olympic dreams after years of training and sacrificing to prepare herself for the race of her life. She performed, but her non-selection was a huge emotional let-down. It was an administrative decision that she never thought she would face. Her disappointment hurt her to the core. From her perspective as an athlete who put in her dues over the year, the decision was unimaginable and incomprehensible.

She shed many tears.

But life continued and she moved on. She is now happily married with two children and working as a mindfulness mentor and model.

With the recent decision to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to 2021, combined with the ongoing global fight against the coronavirus, there are similarly many disappointed athletes and coaches. Some may retire, but most will continue on for another year preparing for the Olympics. It is without a doubt that all the pre-qualified 20 Tokyo Olympic marathon swimmers will keep training…once their countries will open up their local pools and fitness gyms.

But this time of lockdowns, quarantines and shelter-in-place regulations can also be a productively reflective time for athletes and coaches alike. It is tough – frankly, impossible – to replicate high-level aquatic training with only dryland training. Physiologically, swimmers will not be able to maintain the same level of swimming fitness as they can with a pool under normal circumstances. But psychologically, swimmers can creatively use this time to their advantage.

Swimmers often take swimming for granted; pools and shorelines are always there,” said Steven Munatones. “But now with many pools, lidos, beaches and shorelines closed, we can more profoundly appreciate our sport and the joy and challenges it offers us. It is times like this when athletes can understand how lucky they are to be able to swim every day in a warm pool.

When athletes train with their teammates in the open water and pool, they form strong common bonds. They speak in a special code with their friends who share this profound love of swimming. Although their daily vernacular is missing (main set, streamlining, breakouts, pacing, high elbows, hypoxic, 6-beat kick, go on the top), they replace it with small talk about what they are doing at home, at school, or with their families. Now, without that daily interaction due to forced separation, their hearts can grow fonder for their swimming friends and lanemates.

This is especially true for those swimmers whose competitions were cancelled over the next trying period that could potentially last for months – especially for those athletes whose planned their career-ending competitions as a senior in high school or college or as a post-graduate athlete.

But it is also true that few athletes ever think, ‘I wish that I trained less for this race or this swim.’ With another year to train for the Olympics or additional time to train for their next event – whenever that may be – swimmers and coaches can think about how they can improve their training and preparation in the future. Improvements can be made in the areas of nutrition, sleep, strength training, technique, self-confidence, and time management. They can read books, review video tapes, take up mental training, create a website or blog. They have time to think about how they can map out or revamp training programs that focus on speed, stamina or strength.

Without the ability to swim, at least in the short term, athletes and coaches have the opportunity and time to think deeply about how much better, longer, more frequently or more strategically they can train when they finally DO return to the water. They can analyze and reflect on what is most important to them – and how best to show their deeply-felt appreciation, commitment and love to their teammates, parents, coaches, sponsors, mentors and benefactors.

In essence, this forced time out of the water can be well spent and productive.

When athletes and coaches return to normalcy, there will be a major reinvigoration and rejuvenation in the sport. Even with the short-term loss of the races and swim meets – including the major championships and Olympics – swimmers will be more motivated and more appreciative of the value of competing, challenging themselves to reach their full potential, and the value of friendships and rivalries that they have made in the sport.

In these difficult times when most athletes have a lot of time on their hands, they can also reach out to others who they may have neglected because of their intense focus on their own training and goals. They will have much more energy because they are not constantly exhausted from training, and will have the time to reach out to friends and family, supporting and thanking those around them who are important to them.

Now is the time to be patient, not frustrated. To be introspective, not selfish. To be self-reflective, not self-absorbed.

An optimist says the glass is half-full; the pessimist says it is half-empty; but the engineer believes the glass is twice the size it needs to be.

In other words, athletes have a unique opportunity to look inwards and appreciate the challenges they face. We can feel sorry for ourselves and get frustrated – which naturally may be our first instinctive move. But, swimmers know that they are made of the right stuff and can make the best of a challenging situation and will move on, always with our ultimate goals in mind.”

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