I was a geek, misfit, and outsider in school. I missed out on a lot of ‘the fun’ or what was seen as fun by high schoolers like prom, football games, extracurricular activities, possibly traveling abroad with the exchange student program, and much more. I kept my head buried in books. I studied until my nerves were shot and my tummy hurt. No one put pressure on the perfectionist and worst enemy in me because I put on and carried all that weight on myself. I had a fierce competitive streak to always get the best grades and be the best. I wholeheartedly believed within ever fiber in me that if I excelled at school that I would excel at life. Such lies we were and are fed about this.
The one class I absolutely loathed and could not excel in no matter how much I tried while skating by with a “PASS” was physical education. Of course I was the clumsiest, overweight, and most non-athletic person because of my physical challenges revolved around my kidney and joint issues and massive steroids, but I never saw this as excuses and only saw them as explanations. I remember my heart pounding and beads of sweat forming at the base of my neck with each and every name called up to join a team and there I was at the ONLY person left in front of all these kids. How terrifying. How petrifying. I did not have an athletic bone in my body. I was the slowest. I was always behind everyone else. I was always chosen last on a team. When it comes to athletics, I am still always last.
When I look back, I think I fought so hard to excel at academics and mental strength to compensate for what I could not have and what I believed I could never have in physical strength. Everything changed when I received my second kidney transplant in 1995 and hip replacement in 2013. I could not get my legs to kick and had two drowning episodes before my hip replacement that made me fear water and swimming. What was fear turned to love and gratitude in the power of movement and organ donation and transplantation and from all I could finally do from what I believed that I could never ever do. Over time, I developed a huge love and even hunger for the swimming pool. It was about four years ago that I jumped into the water for the first time in my life—and now I cannot get enough of it. I will ask anyone and everyone to jump in the water with me because of the adrenaline rush and the ultimate feeling that you are plunging into an abyss or underwater world, completely free and washed off of all your worries. It was about two years ago that I learned backstroke for the first time in my life. It was just a week ago that I jumped off a diving board into 45 feet depth of a lake for the first time only to see nothing and no grounding beneath me. It had never felt so free. The greatest change was in me.
The clumsiest, overweight, and most non-athletic person in the world that actually feared getting into the pool at my first Transplant Games of America venue back in 2010 has changed to people telling me I had to get out of the pool at this 2018 Transplant Games of America. My competitive streak is still in me and will never go away, but has minimized by the magnitude of gratitude just to be alive and to be able to do all that I could not physically do growing up. Being at the bottom and when you had absolutely nothing or very little and slowly making your way creates gratitude for whatever you can get. However, it is VERY different when you have been healthy or at the top of your game only to fall and find a way to get back up again. At this latest Transplant Games of America, I found that the mass majority are so competitive and set out to win medals that having fun is lost. I think it is what the medals represent—being able to do all that you could do from what you could not do, competing against yourself and your very own race, and being a ‘winner’ when you felt like a ‘loser.’ I think ‘fun’ is different from everyone. My idea of fun is actually NOT winning medals. I’m honestly happy not to win anything. My idea of fun is just being together, jumping in the water, cheering for each other, going off on my own to explore and experience new in life and meet and connect with new people and reuniting with familiar faces, and, most of all, honoring organ donors/their families, living donors, and our loved ones who root for us and stand strong when we have been at our weakest.
For my individual swim competitions, I did not win a single medal. It was for a swim team relay medley that I received a bronze and, that to me, is the greatest medal because it was a team and together effort. My times were better. My very own race and pace were strong and steady. I was last. I am still always last. But now I will ALWAYS be the first to have fun, enjoy, laugh, embrace how far I’ve come and from the ongoing learning curves and process, not take everything and everyone so seriously when life is serious enough as it is, and just be in all the beauty around me that is fleeting and flies as fast as life goes. Do not make the mistake I made of making everything and everyone so seriously and competitively that you miss out on the greater purpose and all the magical moments in the making that end up meaning the very most and the life that you are living in the here and now.
Are we all competitive? Are you competitive? What do you deem as a ‘winner’ or ‘loser’? Have you gotten so wrapped up in a competition that you forgot the fun involved? Have you ever stopped to think about the process rather than the end result that is not always the reflection of what you had to endure? When have you been so serious and competitive that you missed out on the fun and magic in what was happening and unfolding?
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,