My mother called one day and said she had a big secret: she was training for the Senior Olympics. When she went onto to say the games were only a couple months away I realized she was serious. She was 68, retired, had never swum competitively and I thought she was crazy. It turns out that kind of attitude is exactly why she did it. On a mission to inspire her grandchildren, I don’t think Mom realized how much I needed to share her belief that I would never be too old to challenge myself to try something new.
I watched what my mother was doing with curiosity at first. It wasn’t just talk, she was all about action. Training to compete is a significant undertaking and Mom suffered from lower back problems, excruciating leg cramps and heart disease. When the leg cramps worsened she consulted her cardiologist and changed her heart medication. I was concerned but the leg cramps eased and she gained speed.
Mom competed in five races and won five gold medals that year. Before her swim suit could dry she set a goal to win 23 medals; one for each grandchild. I cheered for her as she won six more medals two years later. Proud and awed by her determination to beat her own records I noted her fellow competitors were all living proof of Mom’s belief.
It wasn’t until Mom gave one of her 32 gold medals to my son at his college graduation and told him to remember he’d never be too old to try something new, that I got what I needed from her example. It was not enough to tell my son to believe in himself I needed to show him how. I needed to challenge my own assumptions about what I could and couldn’t do in my life. I couldn’t just leave this important work to my mother, I had to step up and model the way, through my own actions. I had to believe my mother’s belief was true for me too!
I started swimming with my Mom. When I could barely keep up with her she smiled and told me she swam faster with me pacing her. Bobbing in the pool one day, goggle to goggle, I asked her if I could have one of her medals since she had more than enough for the grandchildren. She said she didn’t know I needed one and gave me the gold medal she earned for her toughest stroke, the Butterfly.
I joined the US Masters Swimmers with my mom and we swam our first long distance Postal swim (3000 yards) side by side this winter. In May, a month shy of my 50th birthday, my mother and I will compete at the USMS National Short Course. Sure I’m nervous but I believe my mother is right: it’s not about competing with others it’s about challenging myself so I don’t hold back on life out of fear or doubt.