Becoming resilient, in and out of the pool
By Aaron Young, St. Paul Johnson High School
IT WAS COLD. Freezing cold. Like the sub-zero temperatures of Antarctica.
I heard my brain warning: “This is an emergency, it’s time for the standard protocol.” Suddenly, I felt my blood racing to my heart, finding a place to settle. I saw in my hands the transformation: wrinkled purple hands with veins like Freddy Krueger’s. My muscles weakened, leaving me with no circulation. Shock came over me. The burning sensation was excruciating, like a wildfire.
My captain was flustered, informing my coach I should get out of the pool. I did. I walked in embarrassment to the bench, disappointed I couldn’t perform. I sat with my head in my hands, peeking in agony as my teammates swam.
I decided to clean up and change before meeting my parents. I informed my dad about the incident, and scheduled a doctor’s appointment to get answers.
The next day I was told I had Raynaud’s disease, a condition where my blood flows to my heart in order to keep it warm, leaving the rest empty-handed. The aftermath was overwhelming, and I couldn’t handle the situation. I was devastated.
I spent the rest of the year off the swim team to figure things out.
One year later, I was determined to try again as a sophomore. My dad bought me swimming gloves, a cap, and a jacket to keep me warm. My times improved for both freestyle and breaststroke events by working hard and learning from teammates about technique.
It seemed like I was on top of the world until suddenly, I got sick, this time with a bad sinus infection, which meant time off from swimming. It made me slower. I struggled upon return, appearing sluggish and unprepared. My mentality was in the wrong place: I just wanted the season to end. When the conference meet arrived, I didn’t make the cut.
It hurt. But I knew I had to stay for taper, a month-long period to prepare for the conference meet, and prove myself to everyone. Practice would reach an extreme. I swam 5,000 yards at a rigorous pace everyday. I remember after practice my coach telling me he was impressed. The recognition motivated me to come back and prove my worth. I also found it beneficial that I could improve on my conditioning and endurance.
I finally had momentum. During the offseason, I continued to swim. I swam across Rush Lake twice in preparation for the 500-yard race.
Just when I thought I was problem-free going into my junior year, I was forced to take yet another detour. I was sidelined for the first week of the season to recover after having a cyst removed. But I eventually got a break. I got back into the pool, feeling unstoppable on my own turf. I would race others in the pool, trying to beat them.
It was my time.
I felt like myself. I wasn’t getting out of the pool anymore because of the pain, rather I fought against it, pushing even harder to reach the other end. I was becoming a good swimmer and teammate. A man who overcame whatever got in his way. I was getting faster, dropping times left and right. I learned to pace myself and stay consistent. I even learned to kick and swim at the same time. Finally, I had everything going for me.
Then ... it happened, again. Not only did my hands hurt, but so did my shoulders. It was painful and frustrating.
But this time it was different. Even though it hurt and I could only kick, I still showed up for practice and participated until I no longer could. My mentality was positive and I cheered my teammates on. During the conference meet, I clocked a personal-best 30 seconds on my 50-yard dash. With the end of the season arriving, my teammates felt they could rely on me enough as a leader that I was elected to be co-captain of the team, alongside a junior. I knew I could fulfill the role.
Today, I have learned how to approach problems from a different perspective, knowing I am capable of doing what I thought would be impossible. I believe that no matter what comes across my path, I will be able to conquer it. I hope to spread my resiliency and dedication to my teammates next year as a captain. I want to inspire others and let them know that if you’re feeling down and negative, just look at all you have overcome and conquered. Keep pushing forward in life, feeling both confident and courageous.
Even if I feel the burning sensation in my hands, I still fight through it. I use the pain as motivation to keep me going in the pool. Through this experience, I learned that swimming relates to the challenges we face in everyday life, because it teaches us to persevere through our struggles. I now know what it takes to get through other challenges in life, whether they’re personal or academic.