Mike's Mailbag: Chasing Trials Dreams


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Every Monday I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com.


I'm a post grad swimmer but I swim with a bunch of high school kids. They're a great team and work really hard but I don't have any one my age to bond with. I work really hard and see improvements in each practice week to week and month to month but when I go to meets I don't see improvement in my times except maybe .01. It's frustrating because all the kids I swim with and beat in practice are dropping huge chunks of time while I'm not dropping any and can't figure out why. My goal was Trials '16 but now I'm so frustrated I feel like I just want to give up. I'm tired of putting so much time, effort, and heart into something and not getting anything out of it. What should I do?

Frustrated post-grad
Hi Frustrated Post-Grad,

My goal was always to reach the Olympic Trials. I wanted to swim in that prestigious meet. I wanted to stand behind those blocks, gaze around the huge, vast arena, take a deep breath, then dive into my race. Mostly, I wanted to just feel like I belonged. “I swam at the Olympic Trials” was something I wanted to say the rest of my life.

And I did it. I qualified.

Only, I “qualified” one year too late.

See, my “peak” year in swimming was in 2005, one year after the 2004 Olympic Trials. And I was fast enough in 2005 to have competed the year prior. Briefly, I had one thought: “Maybe I’ll go for the 2008 Olympic Trials.” I wanted so badly to compete in that meet that I contemplated another three years of training after college graduation. But I decided that I was done with swimming. I graduated, and I moved on from the sport.

The thing is, as a post-graduate swimmer chasing the next Olympic Trials, you’re chasing something that not everyone gets to chase. I’m not even talking about reaching the meet. I’m talking about the opportunity to qualify.

You might not want to hear this, but there are way worse things to do in your post-graduate life than train for a swim meet. And I’m sure you’re probably doing some of these things: Temping, working the night shift, living in a two-bedroom apartment with seven people, slaving away in a mail room, stuffing thousands of envelopes every single day for minimum wage. I did all those things after I graduated college. Not because I wanted to. But because that’s what I had to do after college. I had no other choice.

The fact that you get to at least dedicate some portion of your day towards training for a goal is a privilege. So many people don’t get this chance -- the chance to dream. So many people have to work two, maybe even three jobs just to get by. Or they have families to support. Or they do anything they can just to put food on the table.

I don’t know your situation, but I do know that you’re training after college, which indicates you’re at least stable enough to be able to chase your dreams.

I hear you about the dropping .01 at meets, and the not bonding with younger teammates. You feel alienated. You feel out of your comfort zone. You feel frustrated with your performances. But you’re an experienced, veteran post-graduate swimmer. You already knew this would happen. You didn’t sign up for this Olympic Trials journey thinking it would be easy, that you’d just dive in and smell the roses. There are reasons why less than one percent of all registered USA Swimming participants reach the Olympic Trials. Some of it has to do with talent, and some of it has to do with opportunity.

You need to realize that this opportunity only comes once. You have the luxury to chase a dream. If you want to chase it, then chase it. Swimming is a luxury. Think about all the problems in this world. Think about the vast lottery of situations you could have been born into across Earth. Poverty. War. That you were born into a situation where you can swim up and down a pool for part of your day? That’s a luxury.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not telling you to go for the 2016 Olympic Trials. That’s your decision. But if you decide to do it, if you decide to dedicate yourself to that opportunity, I am simply telling you to have a dose of perspective.

There are billions of people in this world who would gladly trade places with you. They would gladly say, “Okay, Post Grad Swimmer, you take the mail room night shift this month, and I’ll go get to chase one of my dreams to qualify for the Olympic Trials.” There are billions of people who would love to have the opportunity to chase their dreams.

If this is what you want, then want it. If this is what you want to go for, then go for it. Spend a week to really think about the next two years of your life: Is it worth it to spend this time with another peer group, chasing a dream that might not come true?

For me, I walked away from that Olympic Trials dream. I’m glad I did. I have no regrets. I walked away from swimming content and satisfied with my swimming career. I began a new chapter – one that every swimmer eventually will start – and that led me down another path, one that began the rest of my life.

For you, my advice is this: If you decide to do this, then there is no more questioning, no more doubts, no more second-guessing. Life is too short. If you decide this is what you want to do, then do it. That is the only way you will succeed here. Two years will fly by quickly. You must swallow your doubt and put your head down and truly, really go for it. That is the only way. One of my coaches always told us before a difficult set, “Find a way.”

You, too, must find a way. Find a way not only to succeed in the pool, but to realize that this is an opportunity very few people in this world ever have. Once you find this mentality, and you still want to pursue this Olympic Trials dream, you can let go your fear of failure.

You can simply enjoy chasing a dream for the sake of chasing a dream.

Hope this helps.

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