By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
The 2013 Golden Goggle Perseverance Award is many swimmers’ favorite category. This award, above any other, recognizes the true essence of the sport of swimming. Each nominee is a swimmer who continued training despite an obstacle or setback—which, let’s face it, in the sport of swimming, is oftentimes plentiful. Vote here now!
Perseverance is defined as “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” Perhaps no other sequence of words more accurately describes the sport of swimming. Doing something despite difficulty. Doing something despite delay. In swimming, sometimes swimmers will wait an entire season to experience success. Sometimes longer.
We, as swimmers, slog through countless laps, miles, morning practices, and mundane meets to achieve something we aren’t even guaranteed: a personal best time. After all, that “delay” alluded to in perseverance’s definition may be permanent. At some point in our lives, we will stop dropping time. There are no promises that a time drop will ever come again. There is no promise for success defined by a personal best time. Which makes this year’s nominees all the more impressive:
They kept going, despite the not-knowing.
There’s Eugene Godsoe, who missed the Olympics only to achieve lifetime bests at age 25, as well as his first international medal.
There’s Elizabeth Pelton, who experienced that heart-wrenching Trials Third not once, but twice, only to rebound and qualify for the World Championships.
There’s Megan Romano, who rebounded after missing Olympic qualification to turn in some of the most epic relay anchors in swimming lore.
And then there’s David Plummer, who missed the Olympics by a fingernail, then earned a World Championship silver in what could be the deepest American event, the 100m backstroke.
Each one of these nominees all missed Olympic qualification last year, a life-altering event that sends some swimmers into retirement or into a mental and emotional tailspin. But instead of hanging up suits, they put them back on. They returned to the water, hungrier, angrier, more inspired. None of them were promised to have success in 2013. But they continued on, just like thousands of swimmers do every season. Hoping.
While I’ve been previewing various Golden Goggle Awards these past few weeks and picking who I think should win, I’m refraining from doing so this week. All Perseverance nominees are deserving because they all embody what it means to be a swimmer: Continuing on not only without guarantee their sacrifices will result in glory, but continuing on in the face of disappointment. Continuing on after being punched in the eye, knowing they could be punched again.
Michael Jordan used to say that he missed more game-winning shots than he made. Other sports legends have said they’ve learned more from disappointment than from success. In my own swimming career, I dropped more time from the times I didn’t (if that makes sense). I learned more from plateaus, near-misses, DQs, illnesses and injuries, and bad swims than I ever did standing on top of podiums. When you’re at the top of the mountain, you’re at the top. But when you’re at the foothills, you’re not just looking at the apex – you’re looking at the path to get there.
I get emails all the time from swimmers asking me, “Why should I be doing this? I haven’t dropped time in years. I want to quit.” And while it’s great to recognize swimmers who faced similar obstacles then broke though, sometimes it’s necessary to recognize the valley of emotion that helped spur the breakthrough in the first place. While I’m not sure these swimmers would point towards 2012 and say, “This was beneficial,” I bet each would concede that 2012 provided more fuel for 2013’s fire.
Swimming is not a sport of constant personal bests. Swimming is not a sport of constant improvement. Setbacks, obstacles, plateaus, and bad swims aren’t only a byproduct of the sport; they’re sometimes necessary. Just like the boxer who is fueled after being beaten-up in the ring, the swimmer is often fueled by a near-miss, a bad swim, a personal disappointment.
Perseverance is defined by “doing something despite…”
And I’ll stop there. Each of this year’s Golden Goggle Perseverance nominees should be celebrated not only because they had great 2013 performances, but because they continued on in this difficult post-Olympic emotional year. They just missed the Olympics, and instead of cowering, one year later, they conquered.
But even more than that, they embody what it means to be a swimmer: Doing something knowing that maybe it won’t result in the Olympics. Doing something because the sheer act of doing it is enough for its own reward.