Do you give more importance to what other people think than to your own thoughts about yourself?
Tere Zacher


Back in 1999 I was a super swimmer. I had already won a world championship; at 27 I became the oldest member in our National Swim Team ever; I helped our team to earn a couple of gold medals in Central American games in Colombia; I had 6% body fat and I loved swimming. With my club team we came to a swimming meet in the beach town of Acapulco. I tried new events just for fun and I remember putting so much pressure on myself because even though I loved what I do I also like to win. And I thought everyone expected me to do so. I won my events -50,100 and 200 free- (fair to say very easily) and to my surprise I also won the 200IM. I had been working hard at this point to improve my other events but the backstroke was always a challenge… or, in real terms, I suck at it. So, I came to swim the 100 back knowing all I wanted to do was to stay afloat and as close as possible to my friend and teammate Marisol who was a kick-ass backstroker at the time.  I barely stayed afloat, it hurt like it was a 1000 back (really, I suck at backstroke) and I came in fourth place. My coach was laughing since he knew a) this was an experiment b) this was not one of my events c) it was a small swimming meet to close the season after swimming at International events d) it was about having fun and learn to swim other stuff. I was okay with it but, as soon as I climbed out of the pool something happened: a couple of people, one of the officials and some of my teammates asked me “What happened?” and their faces showed a mix of disbelief, disappointment and incredulity. I mean, It was me, I was a world champion after all and I just got trashed in an event at a small swimming meet. I have to confess I felt a mix of emotions running through my head (I can see now how I didn’t focus on the right things like my coach did): Do they know this is not my event? Do they know I really tried but it was not meant to be? Do they still like me even if I am not invincible? Do they think less of me? How can they be disappointed? Am I that bad? Is this worth it? Should I just go to the bathroom and hide? Now I need to win my next event to prove I am good!.... well, none of this should have matter because we should do what we do because we love it and as long as we give our 100% (whatever our 100% means on that day and at that particular time)  we should be proud of ourselves.

On the other side of the pool there was a mom with her 11 year old son. He was overweight, his strokes weren’t perfect –far from it- and he was not even close to what we consider “a good swimmer” or “a rising star”. But there was something about this mom that was awesome: she was so proud of him and every time he swam she cheered for him like he was breaking a world record. Every time he came out of the pool (most of the time in last place of his heat) she would go, greet him, hug him and told him how proud she was of his effort, how he loved to see him swimming, and how overall awesome he was. This woman came to me and asked if she could take a picture of her son next to me (to be fair I was quite a phenomena not so much because of my swims but because my physique was huge and I had really short, spiky red and blue hair a-la-Rodman). She told me, now I have a picture of my favorite swimmer next to a great swimmer. It made me almost cry. I realized how for the people that really love us we are their favorite in whatever-we-do no matter how we perform. It made me a little jealous at the time I have to confess. How come my own teammates were telling me stuff about my backstroke swim?  How come even in my own home whenever I came back the question was always “Did you win?” instead of “Did you have fun? Did you give your 100%? Tell me about the meet in your own words”… so, I have tried to apply this to my life nowadays. I don’t swim anymore but I run. I love running.  It makes me happy and I love to test my limits, expand them and create new ones. Of course I have fallen into the trap of “being good/please people/what will they think of me” and, when this happens, I just close my eyes and think of that mom in Acapulco and on how happy and proud of his effort his son was. I think of this every day when I take my daughter to the pool or to any of her other activities (she does Tae Kwon Do and synchronized swimming as well and she runs from time to time). When I see her nervous before a meet I just tell her “You know? I am so proud of you for trying. I don’t care what result you get, It’s all about giving your 100% and having fun while doing it, and, if you don’t want to do it, I’m cool with it too. We just want you to be happy”. But, more than telling her, I try to show her. Kids don’t learn by words, they learn by watching us. Whenever I race, or train, or try anything new, I always try to embody the spirit of that mom and be my biggest cheerleader, have fun while doing it, and be proud of my effort no matter what the result is and no matter what other people may think or expect.

And you? How do you treat yourself? Whom are you listening to? If you have kids, What are you telling them?

Tere “the insightful runner”

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