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Identity: Why I Permanently Smell Like Chlorine

Joined: 10/1/2014
Posts: 1
“REMEMBER!” my coach would yell. And his voice would quiet down, yet always seemed to remain just loud enough for us to hear over the pool water spilling into the gutter: “Mentally tough,” he’d say, grinning ever so slightly and tapping his temple with his index finger.

It was amazing how much those words meant to me.

Four years ago, I had competed in the United States Tennis Association Junior Championships, and four years ago I had been on top of the world. But right after, four years ago, I was told I would never play competitive tennis again. Four years ago, I endured endless hours of physical therapy just so I could move my arm without feeling pain.

Then three years ago, I joined the high school swim team. Three years ago, I began to make some of my best friends. And two years ago, I received my varsity letter. Two years ago I learned to play water polo left handed. Two years ago I got a job as a lifeguard, became a member of the Navy SEALs team. And finally, one year ago, I finished 5th in the California Interscholastic Federation varsity relay meet. One year ago, I met my girlfriend. It’s amazing how much opportunity can open up in such a short time, in what appears to be your darkest moments.

I am not ashamed of admitting that I cried at first. That I stomped my feet and threw my tantrums and screamed my frustrations to the emptiness before me, to a seemingly indifferent world – a testament to my inability of expressing my emotions to people who couldn’t possibly understand. But in my misery, I learned to deal, learned to cope; in my despondency and brokenness, I was slowly pieced together, fragment by fragment until I was whole again, with a new purpose and a new confidence. That one door which had closed on me, which had locked me inside a dark, windowless prison constructed by my own insecurities and bitterness and self-pity, had also forced me to realize that the only means of escape were to break down the walls myself and create my own doors.

So that’s what I did.

Those years on the swim team instilled in me a feeling that I could never quite place but always identified with. Those years gave me a name to a quality I felt has always been an integral part of what I believe in. In a practical sense, mental toughness is more than the ability to endure physical pain. It is the refusal to ever capitulate or give up despite that constant irritating inner voice inside your head begging you to quit. It is the furrowed brow and look of concentration and steadiness in the face of mental agony. Because I’ve seen the resolve and desire burning in my teammates’ eyes and my peers’ eyes, and I know too that it must burn in mine.
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