Becoming resilient, in and out of the pool

Aaron Young, article author, headshotIT WAS COLD. Freezing cold. Like the sub-zero temperatures of Antarctica.

I use the pain as motivation to keep me going in the pool.

I heard my brain warning: “This is an emergency, it’s time for the standard protocol.” Suddenly, I felt my blood racing to my heart, finding a place to settle. I saw in my hands the transformation: wrinkled purple hands with veins like Freddy Krueger’s. My muscles weakened, leaving me with no cir­culation. Shock came over me. The burning sensation was excruciating, like a wildfire.

My captain was flustered, inform­ing my coach I should get out of the pool. I did. I walked in embarrass­ment to the bench, disappointed I couldn’t perform. I sat with my head in my hands, peeking in agony as my teammates swam.

I decided to clean up and change before meeting my parents. I informed my dad about the incident, and scheduled a doctor’s appoint­ment to get answers.

The next day I was told I had Raynaud’s disease, a condition where my blood flows to my heart in order to keep it warm, leaving the rest empty-handed. The aftermath was overwhelming, and I couldn’t handle the situation. I was devastated.

I spent the rest of the year off the swim team to figure things out.

One year later, I was determined to try again as a sophomore. My dad bought me swimming gloves, a cap, and a jacket to keep me warm. My times improved for both freestyle and breaststroke events by working hard and learning from teammates about technique.

It seemed like I was on top of the world until suddenly, I got sick, this time with a bad sinus infection, which meant time off from swim­ming. It made me slower. I struggled upon return, appearing sluggish and unprepared. My mentality was in the wrong place: I just wanted the season to end. When the conference meet arrived, I didn’t make the cut.

It hurt. But I knew I had to stay for taper, a month-long period to prepare for the conference meet, and prove myself to everyone. Practice would reach an extreme. I swam 5,000 yards at a rigorous pace every­day. I remember after practice my coach telling me he was impressed. The recognition motivated me to come back and prove my worth. I also found it beneficial that I could improve on my conditioning and endurance.

I finally had momentum. During the offseason, I continued to swim. I swam across Rush Lake twice in preparation for the 500-yard race.

Just when I thought I was problem-free going into my junior year, I was forced to take yet another detour. I was sidelined for the first week of the season to recover after having a cyst removed. But I eventu­ally got a break. I got back into the pool, feeling unstoppable on my own turf. I would race others in the pool, trying to beat them.

It was my time.

I felt like myself. I wasn’t getting out of the pool anymore because of the pain, rather I fought against it, pushing even harder to reach the other end. I was becoming a good swimmer and teammate. A man who overcame whatever got in his way. I was getting faster, dropping times left and right. I learned to pace myself and stay consistent. I even learned to kick and swim at the same time. Finally, I had every­thing going for me.

Then … it happened, again. Not only did my hands hurt, but so did my shoulders. It was painful and frustrating.

But this time it was different. Even though it hurt and I could only kick, I still showed up for practice and participated until I no longer could. My mentality was positive and I cheered my team­mates on. During the conference meet, I clocked a personal-best 30 seconds on my 50-yard dash. With the end of the season arriv­ing, my teammates felt they could rely on me enough as a leader that I was elected to be co-captain of the team, alongside a junior. I knew I could fulfill the role.

Today, I have learned how to approach problems from a dif­ferent perspective, knowing I am capable of doing what I thought would be impossible. I believe that no matter what comes across my path, I will be able to conquer it. I hope to spread my resiliency and dedication to my teammates next year as a captain. I want to inspire others and let them know that if you’re feeling down and negative, just look at all you have overcome and conquered. Keep pushing for­ward in life, feeling both confident and courageous.

Even if I feel the burning sensation in my hands, I still fight through it. I use the pain as motivation to keep me going in the pool. Through this experience, I learned that swimming relates to the challenges we face in everyday life, because it teaches us to persevere through our struggles. I now know what it takes to get through other challenges in life, whether they’re personal or academic.