When I began my competitive swimming career as an eight-year-old, my ultimate goal was to go to the Olympics.
The Olympics remained my dream for most of my career. I was willing to do anything for it. Two practices a day, every day, 12 months a year. My world revolved around getting to that goal.
Being a swimmer was my identity.
When I got a bad grade in school, I couldn’t care less. I was a swimmer. If anything negative happened in my personal life? It didn’t matter to me. After all, I was a swimmer.
I sacrificed a lot for the sport. I turned down numerous nights out with friends because I had practice the following morning and forewent many vacations to go to swim meets. I put everything into swimming because anything less than the Olympics would mean I had wasted my entire childhood and early adult life.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic came.
I had not competed in the four months preceding the initial shutdown due to injury and illness, but I was putting in constant hard work to get back on track with my Olympic dream. But the pandemic took my ability to practice away. I felt lost. My identity was gone. The thing that had been a constant throughout my life was no more, at least for the near future.
The situation was difficult, both mentally and physically, but it did give me a chance to think about what my life post-swimming would be like. If I had retired from the sport in 2020, I would not have achieved my goal. Would that have made me a failure? Did I waste 12 years of my life?
I began to examine my swimming career beyond the times I put up in the pool.
With swimming, I represented and captained my home country, Jamaica, in numerous international competitions. I had the opportunity to travel the world. I formed friendships and connections worldwide. It afforded me the chance to move to the United States, where I attended a prestigious high school and two of the best universities in the world. It taught me discipline, hard work, perseverance and teamwork. It helped me unearth my passion for sports and its intersections with society. Most importantly, it allowed me to find the best version of myself.
These achievements are more important to me than the Olympics.
Sports provide so much more than a professional or Olympic career. That is not to say an athlete shouldn’t aim for the highest level in their sport, but sporting achievements shouldn’t define who an athlete is.
Athletes have an incredible platform for individuals to play a part in cultivating a society they are proud to be part of. Sports intersects with everything, from mental health awareness, to social justice, to philanthropy. We have seen it for decades with athletes at all levels.
With Sports&, I hope to provide tools for athletes to make the most of their sporting careers and help them understand that their identity and contributions to society are more than the sport they participate in.
Looking to start a podcast or a platform? Let’s talk. Email the team at SportsEpreneur.