I counted it up one time and I came to the conclusion that I had changed schools 16 times before I graduated. Considering that I finished high school a semester early and there are only 13 years of school to begin with, you can imagine that I might have a hard time remembering names of teachers throughout the years. So it is with my high school swim coach, but that doesn’t change the impact he had on me.
My sophomore year I was the usual teenager mish-mash of trying to figure out who I was and where I belonged. I went through years of abuse before that. I heard a lot about how ugly I was, how fat I was and how stupid I was. Though I didn’t hear that anymore, the echoes of it still lingered and did so loudly. Then my friend convinced me to try out for the swim team. I loved swimming, but let’s get real. I was the one who lived in her books – quite literally. Yet, my friend persisted. So, I gave it a shot.
I tried out. The coach was impressed. I was shocked. I was blown away by his words and the fact that he said them as if I should have known them. He told me I was the strongest swimmer on the team, but I needed to work on my technique a bit. Say what? I mean, I totally expected to hear the part about working on my technique. I could see the way the other swimmers seemed to glide along the water with grace and ease. I wasn’t offended by that at all. I was shocked by one simple fact.
Never, in my life, until that very day did I ever remember someone adding “est” after any positive adjective applying to me. That man’s name is lost now among hundreds of others. But what he did for my self esteem isn’t. I’m sure he will never know the impact of those words on a young teenage girl who never thought much of herself. I know he didn’t realize I was walking on air all the way to the locker room and for the rest of the day. I’m quite certain he never thought I would remember that phrase as I taught my son to enjoy the only sport I’ve ever been good at – and knew I was teaching him the right way.
I keep that phrase in mind now when I wonder if I’m really as good at something as I think I am. I even remember that strength isn’t everything and that technique goes one heck of a long way. I wonder if I’ll ever hear a phrase like that again and yet I know the answer will never be “yes” unless I actually “try out”.
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