It was my junior year of college, and my third year making the National team as a varsity swimmer.
We were two weeks out before the big races: the national swimming meet drew colleges like Emory, Kenyon, MIT, Williams, Amherst, and Johns Hopkins. The 3-day event is held in March in a major U.S. city every year. From the time we got back on campus in the Fall, up until this point in March, we were training. Swimming was life, and life was swimming. Training started in earnest in September, and we had 10 practices each week, often clocking in 10,000 yards of swimming on a daily basis.
I lived in the dorms, housed with three other women in a two-bedroom suite with a shared bathroom. We had access to a dorm kitchen downstairs. A brilliant thought came to mind that early day in March: why don’t I make some cookies for the team?
For however well I could swim in the water, however, I couldn’t walk on land for shit. I fell down a flight of stairs, broke my foot, and realized with panic that I’d have to go see my coach and tell him that I’d just broken my foot.
I broke my foot two weeks before the national meet and didn’t know whether or not I’d be able to swim.
I grabbed an ice pack, put in on my foot, and called my mom. “What do I do? Do you think it’ll heal by tomorrow?”
The next day, my coach looked at my foot and said, “What the hell did you do?”
“Go get in my office.”
(He said this kindly, but it was still very intimidating.)
I hobbled across the deck and went into his office and shut the door.
In his office, he asked me what happened. After a few moments, he paused, look at me, and told me that I’d have to choose.
Would I be swimming on the national team, or would I be done for the season?
“I don’t care which way you decide. But if you choose to swim on the national team—if you’re going to train these next two weeks, and get in the pool to race—I don’t want to hear another word about your broken foot until after the meet is over.”
I was wide-eyed.
But in retrospect, it was one of the kindest things he could have done.
This story—and what happens next— I dig into in detail with Steph Crowder on her podcast, Courage and Clarity. We talk about how these specific life events shape us, and the backstories behind where we are today. (I’m actually on two episodes with her: in the first, we break down how to overcome mental weakness, kill excuses, and make things happen even in shitty circumstances. In the second, we look at how to create clarity in your business through a decision-making tool I love.
But back to the story.
That day, down at the pool, when my coach made me make a decision about how I would proceed, he taught me the power of mindset and how important it is to not let an excuse build up in front of you.
I had a great opportunity to make an excuse: my foot was broken!
Sure, you can have a broken foot. But I could also hang my hat on that as a reason for why something wouldn’t work, and opt myself out mentally, before I’d even given myself a chance.
The true test of perseverance and resilience, the people who make it through their 20 Mile March are the ones who look at that moment when they COULD make an excuse and they say, “I’m choosing to do it anyways.”
(For those worried about my foot, I went to the doctor and they said I wouldn’t cause any further damage to it by using it in swimming. If I was a runner, it might have been another story.)
The person who wins, the person who makes it happen isn’t the person who has some magical better circumstances than you.
No one has perfect circumstances. I realized, as I looked around the pool, that everyone has something—tired, bad night of sleep, social stress, and more—and the ones who find a way to do it in spite of, and alongside, all that’s going on, are the ones that rise to the top. When we make excuses, we’re just making excuses.
My coach gave me a gift: the gift of letting this major hurdle go. Every day I iced and wrapped my foot, and in the pool, I spent time practicing how to do a new swim start, a dive, with my foot in a different position.
And, I realized: my foot didn’t hurt too much—the swelling made it somewhat protected and wrapped. And as a sprinter, the adrenaline fueled my body before I had even a fraction of a second to register that there was pain.
I went on to swim in 17 different races across three days. By the end of the meet, I earned three All-American trophies and placed in the top 16 in the nation for swimming alongside my teammates.
And I had a broken foot.
You’re either strengthening the muscle that makes excuses, or you’re strengthening the muscle that does it anyway.
Huge thanks to Steph Crowder for inviting me to join her on the Courage and Clarity podcast. Listen to the full story on Episode 31 here: https://www.courageandclarity.com/podcast/31 . If you’d like to hear more stories like this, check out the entire podcast with amazing courage stories and their badass business wisdom.—
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Also published on Medium.