World Records & Encounters With Positive Sport Psychology

And so the 2014 countdown continues……….

#10 Setting two world records in swimming

I very briefly held world records in the 200 Free and the 400IM. Those two events are (and were even before I set those records) my favorite events. The 200 Free I love because it is a brutally hard race – a very long sprint, not a true distance event. You have to have guts and be extremely tough to race that one well. And the 400IM I love because I stink at breastroke. Which means that invariably I have someone (usually several someones) to chase down and pass in the final leg of the race. And, let’s be honest, nothing feels more empowering than finally hitting your stride when the competition is sputtering.

#9 Riding flying laps at the Los Angeles Velodrome (currently called the Velo Sports Center) on the wheels of my male teammates

People always ask, “Aren’t you scared doing that?” And I say, “No, it’s the least scary thing I do on my bike.” Partly this is because there are no cars on the velodrome. But mostly this is because Sam Kavanagh and Dave Swanson and Mike Farrell are three of the best teammates ever. All are eminently competent on a two-wheel human-powered vehicle with no brakes. When it comes to bike handling, I trust them completely. Even more than I trust myself.

Tucked into their draft, I could whiz around the sprinters lane at speeds way faster than I could ride on my own…which meant that I was also riiiiiight at the limit of my own bike handling skills. There was no time or room to actually think about anything, including how scary or dangerous this silly hobby/job was. Riding on the wheels of the guys I was forced to be in “the Zone,” or what the famous sport psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi termed “flow.” In this TED talk, he even argues that flow is the source of human happiness.

I will say that it seems he’s onto something. Time warps and bends in weird ways in The Zone, and when flow happens as you & your bike are hurtling in tiny circles at over 50km/hr, well, it is very, extremely, incredibly exhilarating. And fun. Far from being scary, it made me happy.

#8 Training pre-Games at the velodrome in Wales

Training at the Newport Velodrome in Wales the week before the London Games was more of the aforementioned exhilaration, only with a partially-healed collarbone and a bunch of star-struck volunteers/fans thrown into the mix. In order to simulate the temperatures we’d experience inside the velodrome at the Games (on account of the stands being jammed to the gills with over-heated cycling fanatics), the heat in Newport was cranked up to nearly 80 degrees F (inside a building!!), and so, holy wow was it FAST in there. Also hot. Plus, the turns on that track are smooth “like buttah”. Unlike LA, it was an effortless, seamless transition from the straightaways to the turns and vice versa.

See, the "mandem" goes so fast you can't even take a decent picture.

See, the “mandem” goes so fast you can’t even take a decent picture.

Just thinking about it, I want to go back. Maybe I need to move this up the list. Except…..

#7 Being invited to compete at the FINA World Championships

Don’t quote me on this because I haven’t researched it but it’s possible that I am the only American swimmer with a disability to have raced at the FINA World Championships. Granted, it was only a demonstration heat, but I say it counts.

Flying there directly from a meet in Canada where I had raced very badly, I was jet-lagged. I was starving, too, because by the time I found the credential office entrance to the basketball stadium where we were competing in a temporary pool, I’d climbed hundreds of stairs and hiked miles around the 1992 Olympic Park.

When at long last I stepped onto the blue carpeted pool deck, my heart skipped a beat or two, as I gazed up at several balconies of plush seats encircling the huge arena. There were Olympians in the water, Olympians in the stands looking like over-grown age-group swimmers, the US National team coaches….who were coming toward me to say hi, then introducing themselves. They handed me a blue speed suit with USA emblazoned on the front, and, in a haze, I ran my fingers over the letters realizing this was one of those moments I’d been dreaming of, wishing for, and working toward since the second grade.

The coaches asked me some questions like, “What events are you racing?” I said there was only one, since it was a demonstration event, the 100 Freestyle.

“What’s your best time?” he asked. I glanced at the pool, fully aware that everyone there went well under 1 minute, and involuntarily blushed realizing my best time was 1:08.9.

“My best is a one oh eight,” I said, and then hastily added, “but I’m going to go faster than that tomorrow.” It didn’t seem possible. I had been closer to 1:10 just a day or two ago. I was a liar.

But in the warm-up pool that night and the next day, I found myself trying to swim like the Olympians around me – I had to be more patient at the front of my stroke, do a bit more of a “catch-up” freestyle than usual. Even wearing a drag suit, I felt amazingly fast. I didn’t know what was happening or why, but I loved the sensations I had in the water. Before I even stepped onto the deck when they announced our race to the (nearly empty) arena, I was elated.

The race itself passed by in a blurry mix of hyper-awareness and almost-out-of-body disassociation, and when I looked at the scoreboard, the time next to my name was 1:07.5. I had predicted my time! That had never happened before. Plus, for the first time in competition, I’d somehow – how?! – been in “the Zone.”

That USA speed suit they gave me is my favorite memento from my career, medals included. What an experience.

Up next….what’s a questionable way to say thanks to your closest ally? Make him buy the donuts?

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