BY: KARA WEBSTER
When times get hard, you automatically want to give up or shut down. Being an athlete comes with things like injuries and not succeeding, making you want to do those things at some point in your career.
I received a message earlier this week from Claire, asking me to write a blog. Blogging is something I love to do, and even through my crazy end-of-the-year college student life, I knew I wanted to do it, no matter how chaotic life is right now. I instantly told her yes, even though she so kindheartedly told me, "it's perfectly okay to say no". I have known Claire for the past 6 years, even though it seems like yesterday was when I first met her. I was also a competitive swimmer, and through the awesome sport and opportunities is where I met her.
Let me introduce myself with a little background. My name is Kara Webster. I started league swimming at the age of 6 years old, when I didn't want to do softball anymore. Mind you, I was that softball player that sat down in the outfield and picked at grass when games were going, thankfully it was only coach pitch. I have always had a love for the water, and my older cousin was the reason I wanted to swim, because she was a swimmer too. I knew I loved swimming so much, that I wanted to further my swimming career.
I started competing and club swimming, at the age of 10 under Middle Tennessee Swim Club; I am from a small town outside of Nashville, called Lebanon. About two years into my club swimming career, I got my first injury. I was 12 and was diagnosed with Multi-Directional Instability, extra elasticity to the main joint in the shoulder. I had to stop swimming, and went to physical therapy 3x a week, for what should've been 6 weeks, but ended up being four and a half months. As soon as I was released completely to get back into swimming, I was so beyond excited. I wasn't going to let my shoulder stop me from doing what I loved most. I remember telling my coach, my first practice back, that I wanted to train harder than I ever had and really give it my all. By then, I was training 10-15 hours a week, plus 6-8 hours of dry-land. Not even 3 years go by, and my shoulder gave out again, and it felt like I was back to square one. I felt as if the world hated me and didn't want me to succeed in my swimming career. I was back at my pediatrician's office, only to be referred to back to my orthopedic, for we thought it might've been growing pain. I will never forget what my pediatrician told me. After I got done explaining what was going on, she looked at me straight in my eyes and said, "stop swimming or you're going to end up on an operating table having shoulder surgery at 15 years old." I instantly broke down into tears, but I looked at her and said, "I'm going to prove you wrong". So, I went back to my amazing orthopedic doctor, to be told for a second time that my shoulder joint and the surrounding muscles were so loose, that he could pop my shoulder out of socket, without me knowing or feeling any pain. I started with physical therapy for a second time. I spent 6 months of hard and intense physical therapy for almost 7 months. Once I was done, and was back in the pool, I remember feeling like I was on Cloud 9. I remember training so hard each day that I was numb by the end of practice. I was staying in the pool for an hour longer, or was getting in an hour before practice started, just to make sure I was warmed up completely, and could get in some extra strokes. I will never forget a practice. I was about 3 months post physical therapy, and never feeling so strong in my life. I remember swimming so fast, and cutting time trials, that were going on at the time for practice, with flying colors. My coach couldn't believe his eyes, and I couldn't either. We were almost done with time trials, and I remember saying to myself, "I can't do this anymore." Apparently, my coach saw it in my eyes, because he squatted down in front of me, as I was about to start my next 50, and said, "Kara, you've never had a better practice since I have known you. Keep going. You're doing amazing". Nonetheless, I persevered through those negative thoughts in my mind, and finished the set stronger than ever. I remember smiling the second I came up from that last 50, knowing I just not only completely did that set, without pain, but I did it without talking myself out of it. I was more happy knowing I completed it all without pain. I did it with a smile, determination, and positive thinking. Positive thinking and staying positive has such a big impact on your life, that as athletes, you may not realize that until your career comes to an end. A year and half goes by, and I was entering my freshman year of high school. I made the regional cut at my first high school meet and was so ecstatic to know I, Kara Webster, prone to injuries, had that ability to do so. If it wasn't for the hard work, dedication, support from my family, coaches, and teammates, I couldn't of done it. I also couldn't of done it if I didn't stand up behind that block, right before my race, telling myself, "You got this. You are capable of making cuts. You are strong enough to persevere through the pain". High school Regionals were 3 months away, and I knew I had to only keep training harder. Regionals didn't go as I expected them, I didn't cut time, but I didn't add time. I was in excruciating shoulder pain, and I remember telling myself, "you only have one race to compete. You can make it through". After having a positive talk with my coach, I made it through. I go through the rest of my freshman year still club swimming, club training, and high school training. 3-4 hours each day, totally roughly 25 hours a week, minus dry-land. I started my sophomore year of high school in August of 2014, and come October of that year, I made a decision I never thought I would be making anytime soon.
I knew, and my body knew, that if I wanted to finish out to my high school swimming, I had to make the gut-wrenching decision to stop club swimming completely, training and competing. I will never forget where I was when I broke the news to my coaches. My coach was in the pool, giving swim lessons to 4yr old kids. He had asked me what was wrong, for he knew my body language was off. I looked at him, misty eyed, trying to hold back my tears and said, "I have made this decision wholeheartedly. I've been thinking about it for months but could never come to terms with it until now. I know, and my body knows, that to keep swimming through high school, I need to stop club swimming." He looked at me and said, "Kara, I completely stand by you and will support you no matter what. I think that's best too. You've been through 2 major shoulder injuries, and I knew your body would eventually start to give out on you. I am very happy that you will finish your high school career." I then simply said thank you, wiped away my tears, and went and told my other coach. She was standing on the pool, coaching age group. She looked at me and asked, "Kara, what's wrong?" I told her my decision, and she simply hugged me and said," I'm proud of you for being so strong and making that decision. I love you and am here for you no matter what." Little did I know that I would only make a worst, but the best, decision a short year later. I saw worst, as if it was bad, but no swimmer ever thinks of when the time of their career comes to an end until it does. I finished swimming my junior year of high school. I say finished, because I made the decision to completely stop competitive swimming. I knew that no matter how many months of physical therapy I would go through, my body would end of not being able to handle competing anymore. I went through 8 months of physical therapy, pretty much all of my junior year of swimming, for a knee injury from cross country. I was able to swim my first two meets, but after that, I was done for the year. Making decisions that would impact the rest of your life is hard.
Most athletes don't realize how powerful it is to stay positive through hard times. It comes so easy to stay positive through the highs of our sports careers, but why is it so hard to stay positive during the lows and hard times of our careers? Swimming is the hardest sport to do and staying positive is hard. What you say to yourself each day, inside and outside of the pool, is such an impact on how you succeed. I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. It may have seemed like I went through more lows of my swimming career, because of my injuries, but I went through so many more highs of it. I absolutely loved the times I got when I was able to watch my teammates compete and so many time cuts, even if I was out of the pool for an injury. Even though I wished I was in the pool competing, I was so blessed to get to watch my teammates succeed and be happy for them. I loved the wet hugs and happy tears I got after their bests races.
When times get hard in your swimming career, please know that tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow is another day to wake up, and be grateful. Be grateful you get another day to train. Be happy to have the opportunity to train a litter harder and go a little faster, in order to be better. Don't be hard on yourself if you don't cut times at a meet, or even add time on a race. It's okay. Every swimmer goes through those phases, but you can't mentally beat yourself up over it because that won't get you to where you want to go. I know it's harder done than said, but stay positive no matter what. Remind yourself each and every day, that even if a practice or race doesn't go as planned, you always have tomorrow to become better.
If you're going through a time right now that I went through, due to an injury, please don't give up. Remember that everything happens for a reason.
One of my favorite quotes, I had written, hanging on my wall in my bedroom, is:
"Whatever you take from this, please don't ever give up on yourself. Turn your "I'm not good enough," into, "I AM good enough. I am GREAT." Always remember that you what you say to yourself is how your actions will be.
From a former swimmer,
Stay positive and go kick butt!
-Kara Webster, Xo