I learned about failure at an early age. If there is one defining physical characteristic about me, it is the fact that I am tall – and grew up tall. For any of my readers who can relate (say, 5’10 and taller), you all understand the very real challenges of the simplest things in life: the difficulty in finding clothes; buying shoes… Let’s just put it out there ‐ in finding a husband
One thing that came with the territory of being tall was the presumption that being tall equated to athletic giftedness; that not only did I play sports but that I played them well. And of course the first sport that they thought I was good at was basketball. Don’t get me wrong – I totally tried. I tried in elementary school. I tried in middle school. I tried in high school. But in a word, I was horrible. Not just bad; not mediocre – horrible.
My mom and I were reflecting on my basketball days years later and realizing now how tall I was then, I thought for sure I had missed my calling. Maybe if I had just given it a few more years or had a different coach I could have been great. I shared that with my mom and she chuckled and said that the only word she could think of in describing what I was like on a basketball court was a gazelle: all legs and just hopped all over the place with no rhyme or reason. I wasn’t even sure what a gazelle looked like – so I googled it…
But even as a kid I learned quickly… “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” And so I did. If I was not good on the volleyball court then my height must be an asset somewhere else. So on to volleyball I went. Clearly tall people are needed for that. If nothing else I should be able to stand in front, put my arms up and block the ball.
You have to remember that playing in the 80’s was a totally different game than what our athletes play now. Our athletes today play on these fancy courts, with these fancy nets, that are literally drilled into the ground. Back when I played, we also had nets – but they were connected to poles that were connected to these massive round bases that you literally had to roll onto the court and set into place.
So here I am playing (in the front of course, because I’m tall) and a ball comes my way. I go up for the hit and my hand makes contact with the ball (which, let’s be clear – is an anomaly). I was so determined to get the ball to the ground that I had tremendous follow through… So much follow through that I followed through into the net and took the net to the floor – along with those 1,000 lb bases. I literally could have killed someone in that moment. But I continued to learn some important lessons…
I won’t bore you with my entire middle school athletic career, but I will give you the quick highlights… I ran track in middle school – a hurdler or course as I was supposed to be good at that with my long legs. In my first race, the top of my foot caught the top of the hurdle and down I went, the hurdle on top of me. I also played softball – until I got cut from the 6th grade softball team (seriously – is that even legal to have cuts to a 6th grade team?). I would share a little about my soccer career, but discussing the bench isn’t very exciting. I even tried cheerleading… I am certain that there are some lovely 6’ cheerleaders who are both graceful and cute – I was not one of them.
I want to get real and talk about failure for a moment… Thomas Edison once said that “many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”. This was so true of me. Had I let the athletic failures of my childhood dictate the athletic future of my high school and college years I would have missed out on one of the greatest blessings in my life – swimming. I won’t say that it was instantaneous or easy but I quickly fell in love with the sport and found that I had the passion and potential to be successful.
I did not begin swimming until my sophomore year of High School. I followed my dream and was able to swim at the Division I level at the University of Pittsburgh. I placed in the Top 3 at the Big East Championships year after year, was an Academic All American and my senior year my named was engraved in the Varsity Walk of Fame, alongside names like Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino as one of the Senior Athletes of the Year. Failure primes us for success!