3 First place
7 Third place
2 Fourth place
3 Fifth place
1 Sixth place
While I worked hard to earn these ribbons, they have little to do with how fast I swim.
Let me back up. The organization that puts on the swim meets I attend, US Masters Swimming, serves adult swimmers. High school, college, and Olympic swimmers don’t participate in Masters: so consider most of us enthusiastic amateurs (though some Masters swimmers are very fast). At Masters meets, ribbons are awarded in each age group. My current age group is 30-34: when I win Third Place, it means I placed third out of all the women aged 30-34 who competed.
However, for most of my races, Third or Fourth or Fifth Place was actually last place, because only three or four or five women my age competed. (In some cases, women 25 years my senior swam faster for the same race.) And for the First Place ribbons shown above, I was the only competitor.
The bigger reason I won these ribbons is simply that *I showed up* to the race.
Showing Up Counts
Whenever I place last in a race, I remember that I beat everyone who didn’t show up.
People who compete deserve a minimum of respect, because they willingly overcame obstacles to participate. The biggest obstacle we overcome is our own psychology: mainly, the fear of stepping forward to test our limits in front of everyone. On top of that, we need sufficient commitment to our sport to dedicate time needed for the race and, for those of us who really care, time needed to practice.
The psychological barriers to competing in your first race can feel huge — and you overcome them every race day. No one is required to compete in USMS meets, and no one cares about the winners except other USMS competitors. But showing up counts for something, even more so when you’re just starting out in Masters swimming. Showing up demonstrates commitment. The will to start and complete a race immediately sets you apart from other fitness-minded people.
(Tremendous respect is due to athletes who work hard, sacrificing leisure time and income to finish first and break records. It takes much more work to finish first than it does to finish last.)
Showing Up Is the First Step
The power of showing up extends to anything you dream of achieving. Most careers start with the willingness to show up and do the work. For example, a wedding photographer must at a minimum agree to show up to a wedding with a camera, take photos, and deliver the photos to the newlyweds afterward. If you’re not willing to attend weddings on the weekends, stand for 4-8 hours, and try to please the bride, you can’t be a wedding photographer. If you don’t show up, you’ll definitely never be a great wedding photographer. But if you do show up, you’ll be a better wedding photographer than everyone who daydreamed about it but never tried. How good you are depends on how much more you’re willing to do.
If you’re a swimmer who has never competed before, I recommend you show up to a meet this year and let me know what you think of it. (I think competing will change you. More on that in a future post.)
If you compete in swim meets, how did you decide to show up the first time?