Living Life Out Loud - Part 4

Just Keep Swimming

Been watching the Olympics? Us too! For me it couldn’t have been timed better. Girls high school swimming started today and a new season (along with a new school year) has begun. Names like Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Ryan Murphy, and Simone Manuel have been talking points around our house for the last few weeks. In my opinion, their Olympic stories and historic swims can have different effects on someone like me (average teenager). Most moments I’m energized and empowered! Bring on the 2x/day practices, drag suits, and “no breathers”. But there are also those moments that I, like anyone else, can feel an unexpected melancholy. The greatness or great feats of others can be imposing.

Thoughts like this, I believe, are a part of growing up (I hate self doubt!). Though few and far between for me, let’s be real — they still occur. Yet in such moments, I truly have to make a choice: Who am I going to be today? Am I enough? Each of us has a hardship that we carry around with us; some are seen and others unseen. For many of you it might be physical, like the loss of a limb, eyesight, or hearing. However, many others struggle in silence.

Whether grappling with fear, neglect, abuse, depression, or loss, the battle of the mind can be just as difficult. At 15, I will admit, I don’t have it all figured out. In fact, I have a long way to go. Life and growing up still have a great deal to teach me. Yet, I will be that cliché person to say that we should not let our disabilities, fears, or setbacks shackle us to an existence of mediocrity. Why shouldn’t I pursue with passion the American Dream, the Desirae Dream? I can win my own Olympics by achieving my goals and pursuing the dreams I have.

Thankfully, my parents were definitely believers in this philosophy. One example would be their rule that each of us kids had to choose an athletic activity to participate in. In Wyoming it is frigid outside 5-7 months out of the year. We did not have satellite T.V. nor could we play video games on weekdays. Whether we liked it or not, sports kept us active. Furthermore, they instilled countless other virtues in us that we never realized Mom and Dad secretly planned/prayed for. I chose the not-so-hearing-aid-friendly, year-round sport of swimming.

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I started swimming at the age of five, a guppy with pink goggles and purple lips (think hypothermic purple). However, I didn’t settle on swimming till I was ten.  I was not especially quick back then.  It was hard.  It is a fact that water is about 800 times denser than air. This can also mean that swimming is 800 times harder than track and football, especially if you factor in your coach telling you that you’re breathing “too much”! Seriously, swimming competitively can be extraordinarily difficult. It requires endurance, self-awareness, and balance. Moreover, being good demands commitment and focus.

Through my ten-year swimming evolution (from maybe to fully embracing) there have been a few constants. One is my coach. He’s been screaming at me for years from the sidelines of the pool.  Sometimes, it seems I see him more than my own mom (eight to ten two-hour practices a week).  He has been (and continues to be) an instrumental advocate and supporter in my life though all the emotional meltdowns and immature phases. Armed with a strong love/hate relationship we learned a form of communication through basic signing, mild lip reading, and writing sets down on a whiteboard.

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My teammates are another constant. They make this rigorous sport fun and have been a link between me and things I can’t hear. They are family.

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So… might you have guessed the other constant? My hearing loss. And a competitive swimming pool environment is not accommodating to a hard of hearing individual. It’s been a struggle through the years, but equipped with the aforementioned strategy (my people), “struggle” just morphs into routine. We work on communication and add whatever tools we can to make the training run smoothly.

During swim meets, understanding verbal communication is almost impossible. It’s like be at an indoor rock concert. The poor sound acoustics, coupled with claustrophobic chaos and wall-to-wall loudly cheering parents, makes clear, comprehensive hearing nearly impossible. Even “normal” hearing aids cannot seem to amplify what I need to hear over the massive amounts I do not. Talk about colossal brain fatigue!  In the past, I would just go un-aided and make sure to pay attention and rely on my coach/teammates. This year, as a new season is starting, I’m excited to try out the smart technology of my Signia Pure®. It’s uncanny how they know what I need to hear and what I don’t. They make the noisy chaos bearable.

Now add water. It’s a complex environment, but this pasted year I was blessed to add Aquaris™ waterproof hearing aids to my arsenal as well. They are a tool that gets me off the starting blocks when precious tenths of a second matter. When swimming on my own, they allow me to put in some serious distance while jamming out to my favorite music. Would that I could tell you the story of how they came to be mine. Time does not allow, but I will say that benevolence is not dead. So much of my success is a testimony of the love, kindness, and goodwill others have poured into me.

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The countless hours I have spent in the pool have taught me so much more than swimming.  It is my belief that the best swimmer is not always the fastest swimmer. Along with this I have learned competition, perseverance, and friendship. Furthermore, it’s not the winning that grows us; it’s how we recover from the failures. I have discovered that I can make my hearing loss a highlight to all my other qualities rather than my defining factor.

There were, and are, challenges in swimming as there will always be no matter where we go in life. With so much more to experience, knowing there will be ups and downs, I echo the sentiments of the great, wise fish, Dory, “Just keep swimming.”

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