I came to Rice as a freshman in fall 2005. I had the privilege of swimming for the school and becoming the fastest 200 flyer my freshman year. It was a good year for me. I scored points at conference and had multiple personal records (PR), but it wasn't good enough. I wanted to do better. Little did I know what the next three years would hold.
My sophomore year was flat. I didn't have any PRs. Spring of that same year I was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder and thought that explained my poor season. I went on thyroid medication and got back to work. I put my head to the grindstone and was ready to pump out some fast swimming and make up for "lost" time.
Junior year--nothing. No PRs and not only that, I got a lot slower! In swimming when tenths and hundredths of a second count, to add a couple seconds to your time is pretty bad. I was swimming 12 seconds off my PR. That's not just bad, that's terrible, unheard of! I felt like a failure. I felt like an embarrassment to my team, my coaches and my school. I went to every practice; I did every lift; I went above and beyond and got nothing. What did I have to show for the countless hours I was spending in the pool? Nothing. I was depressed and felt like I was banging my head up against a concrete wall.
To add on top of this roller coaster, I was on an anti-depressant (AD) to help me battle the war raging inside me. It was something I didn't want anyone to know. I was ashamed that I was clinically depressed. To me that meant I didn't have what it takes to do life on my own. I was a failure--at least I felt like one.
And then came the disordered eating habits. During this spiral my weight started to fluctuate--something which had never happened to me before. I had never worried too much about my weight. It was pretty constant through high school and my first couple years in college. At first I dropped ten pounds only to add 25 to that which was 15# over what my racing weight had been for years. Now who's to say this was from the thyroid medication or the AD, but regardless I found myself feeling out of control and starting to obsess over what I ate and didn't eat.
So take all this and it's August 2008, fall of my senior year. I'm questioning if I have what it takes to make it through to the end: to complete my degree. To finish my collegiate swimming career. To co-captain the swim team. To find a job...Swimming fast was now on the back burner for me. I just wanted to make it through in one piece at this point.
Beginning of my last year I found out I had been misdiagnosed with the thyroid disorder. Initially when I was diagnosed, inaccurate tests were done. So now I find out a year and a half later that what I thought I had, I didn't. This was a blow, but also sort of a relief. I hoped I might start feeling normal again in my body. I decided to get off the AD at this point as well. I went cold turkey off the thyroid med and AD. Not fun for me and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I told my mom, "I don't know what menopause feels like, but this has gotta be close!"
Fall of my senior year I learned a lot about myself. I stopped "doing" so much and started "being" more. I got quiet. I became more self aware. I worked with a wonderful sport psychologist who helped me walk through this process and who is now a good friend of mine. I came to a peace and realization that I may never go a PR again and that's okay. I'm not the same person I was freshman year. I'm older, I'm wiser and I'm going to just swim the best I can now--in the moment, in the present, not trying to relive the past.
With all that, I experienced freedom and peace. When I started being real with myself, I got the courage to be real with those around me--my friends, coaches, teammates and family. The more real I got, the stronger I got. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was regaining my inner strength.
January 30th, 2009--we were in LSU (Baton Rouge, LA) for an in-season meet. Conference was in a month. We were torn down with no expectations to swim fast. I swam 100 fly on Friday and same story as the last 2+ years--no PR.
January 31st, 2009--I was up to swim 200 fly--my baby, my specialty, my event. I was in heat 2 because I was not fast enough for heat 1. I warmed up as usual. I did my routinue crazy arm swings behind the block. I stepped up and dove in. I swam 110% like I had done every race prior to that. I finished, turned around, saw the clock and thought, "the clock's wrong. That's not my time."
I looked at my coaches on the side of the pool who just gave me looks of shock, surprise and smiles. Then I looked up to see many of my teammates behind my lane cheering for me, I realized I had gone a PR. Not just a seasonal best, but a LIFETIME best time. The clock was right!
I got stopped at the student center and around campus days after that by professors and other athletes saying, "Nat, I heard about your miracle swim!" and "Nat, I heard about your breakthrough!"
If that wasn't good enough, I swam another dual meet and the conference championship in that next month and had multiple PRs in several events. I felt like everything that I touched turned to gold those last four weeks of my swimming career. I got to see firsthand God turn impossible into I'M POSSIBLE.
Some things in life we can't explain. It's like a quote a teammate shared with me after that race:
"The Lord doesn't always take you in a straight line. He doesn't always take a direct path. I think He tests you sometimes to see if you're going to keep the faith and hang in there." ~Tony Dungy after winning the Super Bowl in 2007.
So if you've thought of giving up on a dream, keep it at! A relationship, hang in there. A marriage--think again. A job--you might be closer to the rainbow than you think. A family member--you might be the only source of positive energy in their lives...The rain clouds don't last forever. If you don't quit, you've won!
and published just weeks before the "miracle in the pool."