I’ve been reflecting on Denvention and feeling weird about the Hugos, as I seem to every year. This competition and the general race to success in our field reminds me how much stress is a part of jumping into this fray. Margaret Hoelzer, the Beijing Olympics silver-medalist for the 200 meter backstoke, seemed to have similar things on her mind on Friday. She’s had ups and downs in her career, the Seattle Times reported, but she’s found a balancing ground in her attitude.
“I never really race for a medal. I usually just race for my personal best. This sport can be grinding. The competition, the expectations can chew you up . . . . All the joy that got you into the pool in the beginning can be replaced by a sense of dread, a gnawing doubt about where all of this is taking you.”
She went on to talk about the difficult times in her career-- “Everyone goes through them if they’re in the sport long enough.” --and the stress of high-tech diets and early morning trainings.
This reminds me of the writing life, where getting words on the page (an ugly definition, yes?) can shut out so much else that you might be doing for physical health, family, and just fun. Then she says the thing that really struck me: Just before the Olympics, she made a conscious decision to dump the stress and enjoy the ride. “You realize there is more to life than just swimming.” She jokes that she’s going backward, turning into an eight-year-old, choosing to enjoy the swim.
She got out of a mental rut and went back to the joy of swimming. As long as I’ve been in this business, I loved hearing a superb competitor put this into words.