After celebrating Cassidy’s incredible efforts with swim team this past summer, she decided she wanted to pursue the Westerville swim club in the fall. This would be much harder than the summer season, but she was up for the challenge. I was so proud of her intentions and her desire to give it a try!
After her efforts fueled with adrenalin and nerves landed her on the team, we began the season with relentless practices and tough coaches. There were tears, and as she barely survived the first round of brutal practices, I told her she could quit. Maybe this was just too much. But once again, I was reminded and convicted of her determination…
She was not going to give up.
I watched with angst and horror as her face turned red lap after lap with no rest and her stroke became sloppy and the other swimmers passed her over and over again. Every single practice was incredibly trying on her precious body and spirit. The coaches and this league were different than the summer league. There were no soft spots to be had, no hugging and praising and certainly no grace for the weary and worn.
My girl persevered.
Around October, it took a turn for the worse. They started doing breathing training that did Cassidy in. Her eyes blood shot and her face burning red, she simply couldn’t complete strokes without taking air and flip turns without a breath before. If you can’t do what they ask, there are consequences of additional laps. This was tough people, unbelievable tough.
At one point during practice, she kept looking over toward me with her face bulging red and a look of horror. I went over to her, and got her out of the pool and took her into the locker room. She broke down in tears saying “I can’t do it mommy! They are going to make me do a 400 if I don’t! I can’t DO IT!!”
Right then and there I realized that this swim club was either going to make or break her. And I’ll be damned if it broke her. I told her to get OUT of the pool and take a break in the locker room whenever she couldn’t endure the brutal workouts. I told her this was about MAKING her, not BREAKING her. She was to do her best, and when it got to be too much- she needed to give herself grace, where they did not. She agreed with relief and defeat. I knew she wanted so badly to keep up with the other swimmers, and I sensed her desperate need to rise to the bar they held too high.
I talked to the coaches about her lung capacity and the limitations she has. They understood, but there is no compassion in this club. None. This was a very different world for Cassidy to navigate. There were more practices where they threatened Cass and other swimmers with push-ups and additional laps, when they failed to produce what the coaches instructed them to do… all of which affected her deeply. She was worn and torn in this new relentless and real world. For the first time, my precious girl couldn’t use her bright eyes and warm smile to succeed.
Cass remarkably endured. But not without pain, tears, and anxiety over it all. I often wanted to just pull her out of the pool and walk AWAY from it all, to protect my baby. But I knew it was a good experience for her to be able to withstand tough people and persevere through overcoming such intense obstacles. As heartbreaking as it was for me to see her suffer, I also saw the birth of what she was discovering….
Her potential and strength.
Unlike the summer meets, there are no ribbons for placing 6th, 7th, 8th etc. if you don’t place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, you do not get a ribbon. This was and still is hard for Cass to accept, because she wants nothing more than a ribbon. Each meet, she swims her heart out and comes in last. And before each meet, she is so nervous, insecure and desperate for just ONE ribbon of reward in exchange for her hard work all these months.
Before every meet, we have our ‘thing’ and it goes like this:
“Cassidy, are YOU a SWIMMER?”
“Are YOU an ATHLETE?”
“Yes mom. (Sigh)”
“Do ALL SWIMMERS AND ATHLETES WIN???”
“This year, we celebrate that you are a SWIMMER and an ATHLETE!!!”
Although she sometimes rolls her eyes and laughs under her breath with a “MOM… not again!” I want nothing more than to ingrain this into her heart. She is becoming a swimmer and an athlete and THIS is huge. My precious daughter is building a new identity and I see the tiny bits of pride growing deep within her heart. I don’t care if she swims another lap after this season, I just want her to embrace this victory over her health. I want her to be able to say, “I did that swim club.” And I know she does too….
A month ago, she swam a 500 at a long distance meet. (20 laps Yes. I know… If you only knew- her practices start with 1000 warm up- WARM UP, people! Two hours of nonstop swimming…we counted 150 laps in one practice. Seeing how she could barely make it across the pool in the beginning of the summer, this alone was unmistakably a miracle.) Every practice I watched in angst and in awe of her not giving up. Needless to say, she is a limp noodle when she finishes every practice.
On our way to the long distance meet, she expressed once again how she wanted so badly to place in this meet. This is my cue to start our thing…
“Cassidy, are you a SWIMMER?”
“Are you an ATHLETE?”
“Do all swimmers and athletes WIN?”
It was a crowded meet and during her warm up, she looked tired and sloppy. I worried.
I always do.
Her event was last, and I could tell she was nervous. Off to a good start she held THIRD place through the agonizing first 18 laps!!!! I was SO proud of her, and I could hear Cade screaming in the bleachers! I was on deck by the side of the pool, as I watched her swim her 18th lap, keeping her third place by a body’s length! Could this be it? Was she going to finally get a ribbon?! Oh, how I wanted this for her, more than anything else in the world.
When she touched that end, she had two more laps to go and she would finally achieve something she desperately wanted…
To PLACE THIRD and get a RIBBON!
Then the unthinkable happened. My girl- my precious swimmer and athlete STOPPED.
She thought she was done with the race, only she had two more laps to go. I froze. I asked the counter what she was doing and she said she had no idea. I looked over at the coach who was screaming “GOOOOO!!!!!” Cass jolted with a panic and started to swim her final laps…
Now losing her third place position.
My heart twisted and broke in a million pieces. I ran to the other side of the pool and pushed through the crowds of timers and officials to find my babygirl as she got out of the water… awaiting her despair and defeat.
She found me, and sank into my arms with tears of self hatred and shame, “Why oh WHY did I do THAT MOMMY?!”
I held her so tight. Every part of me wanted to scream and cry too.
I walked her to the locker room and we passed the bleachers and heard her dad and brother and grandma and grandpa yelling from above…
She didn’t even look up. She was broken. I didn’t know how she would ever recover from this.
In the locker room, I held her as she cried and I cried too.
Then something happened.
God came in.
“Cassidy, you know how we always recognize how God has blessed you so much throughout your life? You know when it’s been really bad for you, and then something amazing happens and we are SO grateful God helped you?”
“Yeah.” (Through tears)
“This girl who came in third instead of you? I believe in the deepest parts of my heart, that God knew she needed the blessing more than you today. We don’t know what is going on in her life. Perhaps she is being bullied or has family problems? Whatever it is, God knew you would be okay- because you have had such a great year. She needed this blessing more than you… THAT’S why God stopped you. You are SO blessed with love and your health and your family. God knew you would be sad, but He also knew you would understand. Maybe we can find it in our hearts to be grateful God blessed her… instead of you.”
Casssidy’s eyes grew big and wide, she nodded as if she was realizing the same truth God seemed to speak into both our hearts. She stopped crying and everything about her changed.
She got it.
And so did I.
Although sadness still lingered in the air, a sense of joyful surrender offered a new breath of life into both our hearts that almost resembled a celebration. There was good to be had in this circumstance. We saw it clearly, and I thanked God for that revelation that healed and transformed my sweet girl’s heart.
I was so proud. So proud.
We went out to dinner after the meet, and decided to count our blessings as we do, without writing them down for our blessings jar. There were so many to share, because we had just celebrated Thanksgiving! After Cass took her turn sharing all the activities of the Holiday weekend, It was Derek’s turn. Before he could say a word, Cass interrupted saying she forgot the biggest blessing of all…
“That I didn’t come in third place today.”
Yes, my friends. She said those exact words.
Take it in, like I did. I had to ask her to repeat it, because I was just that astounded she even thought that to be a blessing. I stared at Derek in disbelief and tears. I kept looking at her as she explained once again, how the girl who came in third needed the blessing most.
This is how God works.
My daughter was able to stretch outside herself to not only accept but also embrace her ‘failure’ as a sacrificial blessing to another. A girl we believed needed third place more than Cass.
My ten-year-old not only found resolve in this devastating experience, but she celebrated her defeat as a blessing.
I think we can all learn something from her, don’t you?
Thata girl, Cass. You WON, love. You won.