Gratitude

I’m a firm believer in expressing gratitude for the individuals, places and events that have been meaningful to me.

Life’s short…nobody knows what the future holds. If someone is important to you, tell them. If they’ve helped you in some way, let them know. If there is something you admire about them, make their day and say what that is.

I wanted to highlight a few people who have always stepped up to the plate since day 1 (and especially recently), and deserve a lifetime of thanks from me.

Family is incredibly important to me. As my Papou once said, “If you are a tree, family are your roots. These roots help you stay strong in any storm, or stand tall on a nice day.” To me, family isn’t always blood. Family are the people who are part of the process no matter what the outcome…make your happiness their happiness, and the people in life who want you in theirs.

The love and support of my Mom, Dad, and older brother Cam, is indescribable. Not only are they a huge source of inspiration to me, but they are also the world’s best mentors. If any of us say we want to do something, be something, achieve something, we all do what we can to support that dream….while simultaneously keeping each other loyal to the goal we proclaim.

My best friend Kyle, who has been my rock, reality check, and favorite person to talk to about literally everything…. You are such an irreplaceable person in my life and an incredibly loyal friend. You don’t find people like that that very often, if ever. I admire your realness, confidence, and ability to see all sides of a situation.

My incredible sponsors: GRRRL Clothing, BRL Sports, Vermont Peanut Butter and VOmax. I have been absolutely blown away by your generosity and enthusiasm. Having the backing from companies who are eager, interested and excited about what I am working to accomplish… as well as passionate about getting to know me on a personal level and supporting my career aspirations has exceeded any expectation I ever had about the athlete-sponsor relationship. I truly believe in your amazing missions and products and am so grateful to be a part.

To everyone deserving but not listed here, thank you!

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What They Don’t Talk About….

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It’s 3:45am in mid-January of 2009. Even for an early bird like myself, my body attempts to protest.

I’m awakening by the sheer fact that I am uncomfortable, sore in every way possible, and exhausted. In addition to the pain of leaving my warm bed, I then have to slide on my still damp (from last night) uniform practice swimsuit and waterproof heart rate monitor. I go over and wake my mom up, who gets the pleasure of driving me at this God-awful hour before her full day of work starts. I am headed to the pool at 4:30am to make sure I am not late for my 4:45 am swim practice. If you were late, you’d get locked out. You’d allow your teammates, who were also your fiercest competitors, to get the extra training… those extra milliseconds that may be the difference between success or not.

A “normal” high school experience (I imagine) consisted of going to school, doing your homework, having relationships with your friends, participating in clubs, holding a job, and going to the school dances. That’s a lot. Ours included all that but also completing it in the slim-to-0 window you had between practicing 2-3 times a day (depending on if you swam for your high school team…that was additional and not replaceable for a Crimson practice). Whether you liked it or not, you had a 98% attendance policy to uphold if you wanted to stay at this elite level on this team. We practiced 8 times a week/ about 24-28 hours weekly. If you were going to add that element of risk by going to that dance or having that party you better make sure you were at 100% in the morning …excuses were nothing to Coach Spring. Crimson Aquatics was and is still one of the most elite teams in the U.S.

At Crimson, we lived by a few mottos: “the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle,” “always expect the unexpected” and “if you’re not doing it, someone else will be.”

These quotes taken in literal form consisted of our weekly 3×1000 on 11 minutes test set, 100,000 yards over 7 days of Christmas vacation training, Saturday practices including 6-mile runs followed kettle bells, TRX workouts and then 2 ½ hours of intense threshold sets, or having Coach Spring ask his young daughter at a weeknight practice what her favorite number was, to which we would do that amount of repeat 300’s (her favorite number was 20 by the way).

We would push our limits, wearing sneakers and ankle bands having to tread water hands-out style for 28 minutes because someone miss-counted a set, used nets (which were screen door-like objects that clipped to the lane line) which made sure we got past 7-meters off every wall, and did on-land dolphin and flutter kicks continuously for 14 minutes (due to people putting their feet on the ground during the usual 5 minutes of kicking) before we got in the pool. You had to check your ego at the door because on deck you were a nobody (including swimmers with trial cuts, or olympians). Your a$$ was going to get kicked.

Why would you stay? First off, nobody was forcing you to do this, you could leave at any time. Sure, you could go to a team with less commitment, but at the end of the day nothing would replace the hustle you were taught at Crimson.

Simply put, we expected excellence because we trained though anything that could ever scare us. You learned to improvise, adapt and overcome any obstacle you could ever dare to imagine.

This kind of intense training took place every day over the 11 years I was at Crimson Aquatics.

This is why I am confident in my predictions, because I am so confident in my preparations.

This is why I was able to go from no marathon swimming experience to accomplishing what swimming aficionados call “the greatest open water swimming challenge in the world” on my first try… with no protest during the swim.

This is the reason why when someone says: “naturally talented,” I laugh. This is 16 years of maximal effort.

When I pick my big swims (like the 120 miles of the Hudson), I know if its up to me, I can accomplish it. That’s not because I feel that 6 months of focused training will be enough, but it’s because I know I have had 11 years of being broken… which is why I am unbreakable now.

When you have that ammunition, no fear or doubt will ever be in your mind.

I dedicate this to the ladies who have been there through it all: Samantha Hall (College of the Saint Rose, Captain), Carah McClure (UVM, recent LA Marathon completion), Selene Chilton (CCSU), Kasey Chilton (CCSU), Danielle Tagarelis (Assumption College), and Allie Hall (MIT). We’ve laughed, cried, celebrated victories, supported each other through defeat and gone through training that nobody will ever fully understand. Even this post doesn’t do it justice.

To me, having this kind of unconditional friendship is the biggest success story. I owe a lot to you all, and words will never do that justice. I am incredibly proud of where we all are today.

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Know Thyself

Recently I was asked in an interview what I thought my greatest strength was/is? Immediately I said, “my mental game has been crucial to my progress.”

In any endeavor, people will have opinions good or bad. It’s whether you give those opinions power or not that will determine your success. 10 times out of 10 you will suffer if you take to heart other people’s opinions and have an emotional reaction to them. A great strength of mine is to be able to observe, use logic, and be rational. If you let other’s opinions control you, you give them the power. I will never let that happen, and hope you won’t either.

17 years ago, I strapped on my Speedo Hydrospexs and slowly lowered myself into the water. My toes barely touched the 4 ft bottom but it was my first swim lesson and I was ready to go.

Secretly sliding off my arm floaties, fearless and flirting with danger, my mom knew it was time to learn proper swim safety and technique.

As the lessons went by I loved the feel of the water, the challenge each lap brought, and how I could dolphin kick like Ariel in the Little Mermaid (only to be cut short by getting heel kicked square in the nose to which I needed some medical attention to stop the bleeding).

I made major improvements over the few weeks of the lessons and had gone from a fearless novice, to a focused swimmer who managed to learn the basics of all 4 strokes. As the lessons were winding down, my hunger to keep swimming was just revving up. After diligently watching the older kids and hearing about the summer league team, I craved the opportunity.

However, when my mum asked the instructor about it after the lessons were done, the instructor responded: “In my opinion, I don’t think she’s good enough yet.”

My mum, being the saint that she is, didn’t want me to be discouraged, but also wasn’t going to sugarcoat it. In the car when I asked her what the instructor said she replied, “In her opinion, she thinks you need more practice, honey”

I didn’t give it too much thought, and I remember thinking to myself very plainly, “I’m going to work on my own to be able to swim on a team. I’m not doing any more lessons.”

If they close a door, crawl through the window…

After countless trips to the library checking out books on swimming mechanics… to hours and laps at Auntie A’s backyard pool with my dad serving as “coach,” we covered everything from putting on a bathing cap to technique. My dedication to making the team was unwavering and my skills improved. When my dad saw an ad in the Sunday Eagle Tribune about the top ranked New England U.S.A. club team (then called the Pirates) holding tryouts, I was there on a late August evening with my parents and older brother supporting on deck.

Long story short, my dedication was rewarded and I made the team. I had incredible coaches who truly believed in their swimmers (I’m looking at you Brenda Hogan and Patty Spring). I won state medals at 8-and-unders, broke a team relay record and even won the Coaches Award at the All-Team Banquet in the first year. I stayed with the Pirates (now Crimson Aquatics) under the guidance of even more renown coaches (Mike Spring, Sean Geary, Mark Taffe) for the following 12 years. (Blog post on that coming soon.)

Moral of the story, all that matters is how you see yourself and how you work towards the goals you set and proclaim. Opinions are opinions, and while they can be valuable, they can also be unnecessary noise.

As the Ancient Greek aphorism states at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, “know thyself.”