Striving to be a Better Athlete: Putting an End to the Mediocrity

As we’re getting closer to Madagascar and my 27th birthday (my birthday is on the same day as the 80km “Long March”! Yikes!), I’m starting to reflect back on the things I have already accomplished, how they’ve shaped my present, and how I’d like to continue to grow in order to best keep progressing forward.

Now, I am aware that there are going to be quite a few people who are going to disagree with what I say next, and maybe it is my self-hating, self-depreciating personality, but to be honest, I really don’t feel like I have ever really been good at anything. Okay, yes, I’ve done quite well for myself; however, recently I’ve begun to feel that I have not been trying as hard in life as I probably should have. Instead, I’ve long taken a back seat and just waited for life and any natural talent to push me along.

Thanks to my ability to slide through life, as I’ve started to look back, it does feel like athletically, and academically, I have been pleasantly mediocre. I know, in my gut, that I could have been much better at everything I have ever tried. The problem, though, is that I have always been afraid of actually failing and disappointing those around me. I have been too scared to really give something my all and try, so as to make myself the better athlete, student, and worker. Though I hadn’t recognized this previously, by not giving something my everything, I had an excuse as to why what I had been doing didn’t work out. By not trying as hard, I would be able to tell myself that, “yes, I could have done better, but I just haven’t had the time or the chance to have done as well as I should have.” Not trying as hard as I could have was like a mental safeguard.

So, the reality is that when everyone encouragingly told me that I was improving or doing well, I was really just doing my best to retain mediocrity – to be just good enough, but never great. For those activities and things that I have done reasonably well at, it was accomplished almost solely thanks to a natural talent and hyper competitive mindset. If someone was doing better than me, I’d only try to the point where I could do just as well as them.

The most obvious example of my mediocrity lies in swimming, the sport that I have long considered myself to be most successful at. During my first day of training in university, we were all asked to split ourselves amongst the various lane lines. There were to be two people in each lane; the first lane was meant for the slower swimmers, while lanes five and six were for the fastest swimmers, and lanes seven and eight would be home to the distance swimmers. Despite having done reasonably well at high school level, and fully understanding that if not lanes five and six, I was likely good enough for at least lane four, I also knew that no one there was aware of how capable I was. Therefore, taking the easy way out, and wanting to fly under the radar for as long as possible, I planted myself firmly in lane one, and contented myself with sitting near the back of the pack for every set of exercises and laps, never expending more energy than I had to.

At our first competition of the year though, I was put up for the 50-meter freestyle, one of my specialties in high school. Thinking that I was not very good, my coach placed me in the outside lane, where the weaker swimmers were meant to start. The two inner lanes were for the strongest swimmers. After the gun sounded though, I was the quickest off the blocks, and the quickest to the finish. Not only had I won, but I had also broken a pool record in the event. I strutted my way back to my team’s side of the pool and thought to myself, well that wasn’t so difficult.

Of course, my coach, being flabbergasted at the difference between my performance here and my performance in training, was not pleased. The next practice, I was unceremoniously removed from lane one and tossed into lane six, where he was determined to make sure I trained to my ability.

I didn’t though. Like I had in lane one, I continued to never really push myself, only trying as hard as I needed to in order to stay on par with the other women in lanes five and six.

That’s rather depressing. Looking back on my time in university swimming, I’m really quite annoyed with my younger self. I was nothing more than a cocky kid, so used to being a star that it never occurred to me that if I wanted to go further with my career that I’d actually have to try and potentially face failure. I merely expected that it would all just work itself out, and if I lost during a race, I lost. I wasn’t ever really happy about losing, but for the most part it was fine; I just hadn’t tried hard enough in practice to make me a good enough swimmer to win that particular race.

But if I know I can do better, shouldn’t I at least be trying to make myself better? The emotions associated with failure and losing are awful, but shouldn’t I at least try to succeed? Who knows how well I could have done if I wasn’t being so lazy, so arrogant, and so worried about giving something everything and then failing? The sad thing is that I can trace this fear of failure, and the decision to not try as hard, in almost every aspect of my life up until this point.

They say that the first step to change is awareness. Right now, I’m as aware of my issues as I’m ever going to be. It’s time for me to take action and really show myself that if I actually strive for something, I can break out of my cycle of mediocrity and be stronger than I believe I can be. Being consciously aware for the first time of what I’ve done to myself, it’s time to take a stand against my demons.

Currently, Rich and I are in the process of training for Madagascar. I won’t become a great runner within the next month leading up to the race, but I’d like to be the best runner I can be by the time we land in Diego Suarez. To be honest with myself, just because I haven’t been a good runner in the past, does not mean that I can’t be a great runner now. It is time for me to buck up, stop telling myself that I cannot or should not keep going, and just keep pushing on.

Just keep running. Always keep striving.

Exhausted after a round of 400 meter sprints
Exhausted after a round of 400 meter sprints

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