I went through a lot of changes in high school. This is the time when most teenagers either come out of their shell or develop a much thicker one. I came out of mine. I knew I wasn't the best looking or best dressed, but some newly found arrogant part of me thought that I was probably the smartest. Not only was I smarter than most of my teachers, nothing could hurt me. As I grew more confident I began to develop what I call now the 'Invincible Syndrome'.
In my teens, the problems in my parents relationship had begun to surface and spill over into my life, and I think this 'Invincible Syndrome' was a reaction to that (and probably also a result of newly introduced levels of testosterone). In order to not let my parents issues effect my life (my life, of most importance), I became detached from feeling much of anything. The funny thing is, it worked for a bit. I've always enjoyed competition, so when it came to challenges in sports or education, I loved to meet and beat them, and then subsequently brag about it. I was also at a time in my life when I was experimenting with things like weed and alcohol and smoking cigarettes, etc. Due to my parents apparent hypocrisy at the time, I had decided to throw out much of what they taught me and figure things out for myself. Of course they taught me never to do drugs or alcohol, so when my friends became curious, I was at the front of the line. I loved to push the limits in every way. I would take advanced classes at school and show up high. Showing up high to class was a completely different experience for me... it was challenging in a number of different ways, especially in the way of hiding it (which despite our attempts we failed to do most of the time). When grades came, I still got A's, and I would brag to my friends that I was high the whole time and still got an A. I loved it. I loved to throw stereotypes back in peoples faces. I loved to prove people wrong.
You may read that paragraph and say, "Man, he sounds like he was an ass in high school." But when I think about it I really wasn't. I was a good kid in high school, I just became a little misguided in my last couple years. I wanted to be challenged and loved and respected and understood. Those are good things. I went to Young Life and church and met for coffee with my small group, and I believed I was a christian regardless of how I was acting. I excelled in athletics; swimming, track and sometimes cross-country (which I hated, but did anyways). I was also part of the running start program which sent me to college for much of my junior and senior year. I had friends in every click and I thought I could do it all; I could party, get good grades, sell weed, go to church, go to college, be a state champion swimmer, and beat anyone up who said otherwise. I had yet to learn the true meaning of consequence.
Because I excelled so easily at things, I think I eventually lost my work ethic altogether. There was no reason for me to work, because after all, my half-assed last minute efforts seemed to be working fine. I think some people call this "Senioritis"; when you're a senior in high school and you start slacking off in anticipation of graduating. Maybe that was part of it, but I think my Senioritis stemmed from arrogance, fool-heartedness and inexperience. As a result, I became known for my slacking on the swim team that final year of high school.
This is just one small story of regret.
Our swim team was a good one considering we were one of the smallest schools in Washington State's 3A division. Swimming is a lot like track where individual events come secondary to the relays. The relays are popular to watch, and are really the only true team aspect of track and swimming. The most important relay is the medley relay, where each swimmer does one of the four strokes. It starts off with backstroke, then breaststroke, then butterfly, then freestyle. Long story short I was the freestyle leg, the last leg. Not because I was better than the other swimmers at freestyle, but because they were the best on our team at the other strokes. I was the next best at the freestyle position, after the three of them. We dominated all year long, sometimes lapping teams and clocking fairly close to the state record, so our coach thought we had a shot at the gold medal when it came time for the state championships.
The whole year my 'Invincible Syndrome' had come to a head, and needless to say my work ethic was lacking in the pool. I spent a lot of time goofing off, sometimes showing up high to practice and skipping parts of the work out. I didn't want to swim in the fast lane, because thats where the hard-working and serious people went, and they mostly got mad when I slacked off. So I scraped by, doing my minimum, expecting maximum returns as usual. I was still competitive, I still wanted to win, but I had lost a lot of my will to compete on a daily basis in practice. I figured I was good enough.
The State Championship came along in February of 2001, and our hopes were high. The first day of the tournament we placed first in the medley relay, giving us the top spot going into the finals. It was extremely exciting because we hadn't been beat all year and it looked like we couldn't be. We shaved our heads, bought tinted goggles, and because it was February our pasty skin led to a very chilling display of what Hitler's 'Arian Nation' might have looked like. Being seeded 1st, we were able to choose the music that the swimmers walked out to, and we would lead the pack to the starting blocks. We chose a Rage Against the Machine song, which for the life of me I can't remember right now. It was exhilarating to say the least. We were a small team from a small school up against schools three to four times our size, and it looked like we were going to win.
Flash forward to me up on the blocks. The gun is a distant memory and the first two legs of the relay are completed. We're ahead, and I'm waiting for Cory to touch the wall. He's got at least a yard on the guy in the lane next to us. I dive in, the water blasting passed my goggles, my ears filled with noise, every muscle working to displace as much water as possible. I glance to my left and I can see the swimmer in the lane next to me, still a yard or so behind. I glance forward to see the wall, I have to be sure its close enough so I can flip my turn in one fluid motion. I flip, and reach my toes out to find that the wall isn't where I expect it to be. I extend my legs and find it with the balls of my feet, and I just as I thrust I see the swimmer next to me launch his turn, plant his feet, and with his legs bent at a 90 degree angle get a full push off the wall. So now we're head to head, and I'm pulling water as fast as I can, but he seems to be gaining on me. I see him next to me, gaining ground, going faster. My confidence falls out of me, and as we hit the wall I know he has beat me to it.
I sat in my lane in disbelief. This was our one shot to have a place in history, our one shot at glory. It would have made an epic sports film, a great underdog story... but I blew it. I punched the wall a few times, but that only made it hurt more. The team next to us was in ecstatic celebration, and my team, still panting, was slowly walking away in shock. I knew they resented me, and that made me resent myself.
It felt like for the first time in my life I was vulnerable. I was humbled and saddened. I cursed myself for my lack of work ethic, when others on my team would have killed for the chance to swim in my spot. There was no way out of this one, there was no excuse... I was met with a challenge; the win was in my hands, and I came up short plain and simple. I failed because I was foolish and selfish and arrogant. I failed myself, my teammates, and my coach, who wouldn't even look at me afterwards. He knew why I had failed, he'd witnessed it on a daily basis in practice. Sure, we got the silver medal, but it felt like a cheap consolation prize... a "Thank You For Participating" award.
Looking back now it seems like a distant memory. It seems silly that we would take something like that so seriously, and in the long run it was just a game. But I can't help but remember the weight that I felt. This was what I had worked years for, what others had worked years for, and I had let everyone down. There was no going back. That was our last chance to make school history, to make state history, and I had blown it for everyone. I felt defeated for a long time because of that.
This may sound ridiculous, but this event has had a huge effect on the way I do things now. When I find the odds stacked up against me I no longer laugh. In the face of adversity I try not to sneer... I bite my tongue. I know what it takes to achieve greatness, and I know what it takes to fail. Sometimes, like this morning, I am reminded of how hard I must struggle. I am reminded of what it takes to accomplish things of value. Because sometimes I wake up and think of this story.
Sometimes I wake up and wish I'd done better.