Swim meet season: Winning with personal bests

The frustrating part about February is that my preferred pool is pretty much closed down the entire month.

The fun part about February is that the pool is closed for championship swim meets.

Three collegiate conference championships have been held at the Flickinger Center pool in downtown Buffalo — including the Division III State University of New York Athletic Conference and the Division I schools of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and the Atlantic 10. Unfortunately a combination of my schedule and winter storms kept me from attending any of the events, which makes me a bit disappointed. College championship swim meets are a bevy of noise, chants and constant movement. Half the fun is figuring out where exactly to put your attention because the swimmers on deck are just as entertaining as the actual competition in the pool.

Recently, I was talking with a good friend who is the mother of a swimmer. Her son worked his butt off all summer, wanting to have a great season capped off with a fantastic championship meet.

Only in the championships, he didn’t make the finals. In one event, he faltered on his turn, costing him a few seconds. Needless to say, he wasn’t extraordinarily happy in the moment. But what that final standings didn’t indicated was that he had set personal bests in his events. He had given his best performance. Ever.

His mother described how she and her husband were most proud of his academic accomplishments, his leadership role and all the other intangibles that go along with being a collegiate student-athlete. After all, potential employers are not going to ask about his fastest time in the 200 butterfly unless he was interviewing to become a professional swimmer, which (a) is not in actuality a viable career option even for the best swimmers in the world and (b) wasn’t really his life’s ambition in the first place.

And while I concur with everything my friend said, what struck me most about the tale was the part where he set personal bests.

All that hard work in the summer and during the season? It did pay off. In spades. Personal bests aren’t easily achieved. They should be celebrated, not glossed over.

It can be difficult to step back and see personal successes for what they really are, particularly in a field such as athletics where you’re measuring yourself against someone else. The entire event is an exercise in quantification of judgement . Who is the fastest? Who scored the most points? Who won?

Winning is fun. There’s no denying that. Working to win — whether it’s a game, a race, a championship, a promotion — can be a challenging, enjoyable and even life-affirming process. But I contend there are different definitions of winning and different ways in which to embrace competition. The championship event provides focus, but in my experience, if I’m too attached to one specific outcome, I miss a lot of really good stuff along the way.

Every personal best of mine may not bring a trophy or title or recognition in the traditional ways success is celebrated. But if I relax into my own definitions of success, those accolades arrive in unusual and much more exciting ways.

%d bloggers like this: