This past year I had the fortune to be selected to represent the United States in a huge celebration of Jewish athletic pride called the Panamerican Maccabi Games hosted in Santiago, Chile. While I have always been proud of my Jewish heritage, being surrounded by individuals with similar dedication to athletics and Judaism helped make clear for me the pivotal role these two elements play in defining who I am. My experience in Chile helped highlight many ways I can let my participation in swimming enhance other aspects of my life. Though it may seem cliche, I have my participation in these games to thank for three lessons I learned that can be applied to my life as a whole.
It’s not all about the swimming (and that is okay). As anyone who has met me probably knows, I am fairly obsessed with the sport and everything that comes with it. As such, when I received the news that I was selected for Team USA, I expected much of the programming in Chile to be athletically centered. I found, however, that while this feature was obviously present, it took a backseat to the social aspects, which provided for a much more relaxed and fun environment than if competition had been the main goal. What this showed me is that it is possible to combine athletics and other things and still promote a meaningful and successful atmosphere in and out of the pool. There were two women from the Mexican Team who had a significant impact on my time in Chile. Each of these ladies had been swimming for longer than me, but still expressed a deep love for the sport. For me, they came to represent both formidable competitors as well as the type of swimmer I hope to become one day. I met swimmers from many other countries and we had so much fun both competing and socializing.
Sometimes not knowing what comes next is better (and more fun). I won’t pretend that I am someone who is even proficient at going with the flow and adapting to new situation but my experience in Chile at the very least helped me appreciate why these are important skills to cultivate. The main challenge in Chile was the fact that there was no single person who set schedules and therefore no way to make a definitive plan. At first this was hard for me, but I soon learned to look for the silver lining to these experiences. For example, being left at the competition venue for hours after the meet has ended is not a drag but rather an excellent opportunity to get to know your teammates better or sitting on a bus for two hours after the opening ceremony is not a total waste but rather a perfect time to learn all about Judo from the USA Judo team. By turning the challenges presented by large groups in a foreign country into adventures where lessons can be learned, I was able to recognize how these experiences will help me adapt to changing situations in the future. Because the team navigated the adventures together, they brought us closer as a group and allowed us to have fun along the way.
Swimming well does not always mean swimming fast. The meet is Chile was Long Course (50m) while college swimming is exclusively Short Course (25yrds), meaning that before the games I had not raced this type of course for almost two years. This presented both the challenge of an unfamiliar situation and the possibility of learning how to adapt my racing style. In general, I am someone who swims best very relaxed (such as in the middle of practice), so racing is usually somewhat stressful for me. Because the Maccabi meet was held over four days, I was able to gradually adapt to the characteristics of the pool. In all honestly, it took me until the 3rd day to feel comfortable getting up behind the blocks and racing. As a result of having to adapt how I approach races to new situations in Chile, I was able to return to my college season with new skills that help minimize the effects of unfamiliar surroundings on my racing mentality. Therefore, I can say that while the times I turned in in Santiago were not that impressive, I benefitted so much from what I learned that I can say I swam well.