Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My path, my daughter

I spent last weekend in Canton Ohio watching my daughter swim in her first collegiate conference meet.

She swam magnificently, setting 2 PRs in individual events, and breaking 2 school records in relays.

She's a stud.

Big meets like that have lots and lots of heats, the vast majority of which do not involve my kid, so there's lots of time to think.

As I watched my baby girl, now 19, kicking some serious ass, smiling ear-to-ear having destroyed her 200, giving and receiving high-fives from her team mates, laughing with and cheering for her friends, and generally enjoying the biggest meet of her first college season, I felt great pride in her, and joy for her, and not a small amount of jealousy.

Let me explain...

I ran track in college at a division I, Big Ten school, as a walk on. I wanted the challenge, academic more than athletic, of a big school. Still, I'd been a more than decent high-school athlete, and I wanted to continue to develop that part of myself, too.

I'd been recruited by other schools, smaller schools with great academic reputations, and excellent track teams. Those coaches told me that I was good, but that I'd be lost on a big school team, and that I could flourish in the smaller, more personalized small school environment.

I was tempted, very tempted, but for various reasons, ironically including both ego and naiveté, I went to the big school.

Those coaches were right, at least about getting lost. My coach, who was a decent enough guy, was more interested in his squash matches than in coaching. He ignored me while doting over the football players who graced our team with their presence.* Without motivation and challenging developmental training, I didn't exactly prosper. In my college career, I never ran as fast as I did in high-school. I won exactly one race. I never made the cut to compete in my own conference meet.

Watching my daughter flourish in her small school environment, at her first conference meet, swimming faster and stronger than she ever has, and reveling in the supportive atmosphere, I couldn't help but wonder what it would have been like for me had I taken a different route.

At a meet toward the end of my career, I ran into one of the small school coaches who had recruited me while I was a high school senior. He told me that with a little attention, I could have been a division II All-American. That may have been flattery, but it was more motivation than I ever got from the coach I actually ran for. If I'd run for that small school coach, I can confidently say that I would have run faster, and accomplished more on the track.

It might not have been a bad thing for me to have been a bigger fish in a smaller pond. It would be nice to look back on my college track career with pride, not as yet another instance of unfulfilled potential.

While all of this was whirling around in my brain, my daughter was swimming her heart out in the 1650m. That's essentially a mile, so I had lots of time to think. When my head cleared, I was looking down at her, cranking out lap after lap, and all of the jealously, the traces of regret, left me.

Had I taken a different path, gone to another school, no doubt I would be a different person. But, I would have never met her mother. I wouldn't be in that seat, watching that beautiful, amazing girl, swimming like a damn torpedo.

When we find ourselves looking back at what could have been, we need to consider what might not have been, as well.

Despite the roughness of the road traveled, I wouldn't change a thing, because any single change might have meant that I wouldn't have been in that natatorium last weekend, the proudest of a thousand dads. And that fantastic young woman, my daughter, wouldn't be having the meet, and the time, of her life.

Let's face it, she wouldn't be here at all. Neither would her equally awesome brothers. And that would be a terrible, terrible shame.

Good running,

*Note that one of those football players was Rod Woodson, who not only is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (I'd forgotten that until I saw his bust, right there in the Hall of Fame, while I was in Canton), but also qualified for the Olympic Trials in his first collegiate race as my teammate.