Finding the Final Rung on Your Ladder to Success

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Kennedy Cutler, Swimming World College Intern

I started swimming lessons when I was 3 years old, and began to compete when I was 6. All of that time, all of the years between then and now, has been in preparation for what’s to come. I’ve climbed the ladder, and fallen down a rung or two at times, but I keep climbing. Once you start, the only way to stop is by reaching the top of your ladder, wherever you decide that is.

Wherever you’re going, you’ve been preparing for this, your next step and your next goal, for your entire life, ever since you first started to climb that ladder.

Back at our team banquet in April, I was asked if I was ready– ready for the coming season, for the coming year, for the B1G Ten meet, at that point still another 10 months later. My answer to whether or not I was ready? Yes. Because no matter what happens, my end goal and the top of my ladder rests somewhere during those four days next February.

For many, the goal is something happening sometime in the coming weeks, at Trials in Omaha, and, for a select few, at the Olympics in Rio. Whether it’s to just swim at Omaha alongside the greatest the United States has to offer, or even getting into the top two in an event to make the Olympic team, they all started their journey on their first day in the water. They started at the same place as everyone else in the sport, at the bottom of their own ladder.

Wherever you’re going, you’ve already started moving towards it. Even those goals that you haven’t decided to aim for just yet, or the ones that you’ll change to from the one you’re currently striving for, you’ve already begun climbing. And even if the top of your ladder changes, in one way or another, you will get there.

I had the opportunity to speak with Terri Eudy, long-time coach and retired swimmer, who offered her perspective of the ladder to success.

“It does vary by swimmer and by age group,” Eudy said about the top of the ladder, and each athlete’s potential. “As a coach, the goal is to get each kid to the best rung that they can reach.”

“For the little ones, we tell them the sky is the limit,” Eudy said. “As they get older, we assess what each individual excels at to help them decide what goals to go after. Everyone wants a well-rounded swimmer. But we’re going to direct them towards their strengths. We discuss goals from early on, and the idea is to have them just out of reach but not out of sight. And then once you reach that rung, you move up to aim for the next one.”

Sometimes we athletes see the last swim of our careers as that top rung of the ladder, and then we retain the mentality that whatever happens in that race will define our swimming career. Eudy made a comment about how, for most swimmers, swimming is built into our lives and a part of who we are as people. The character traits from swimming carry over into life after we’re done competing in the pool.

“You need to remember after your final swim that you are a person first, and an athlete second. People forget that. Coaches forget that,” Eudy said.

So what happens when athletes have fallen short of reaching for their goals? Eudy said that it had a lot to do with work ethic and that swimmer’s mentality. “Making peace with falling short depends on where they are in their career. It depends on what level they are at. And it depends on where in the season they are,” Eudy said. “Athletes of our sport tend to measure themselves off of their last swim. They get stuck on it.”

Eudy mentioned the hardest part about being a coach is sometimes having to discuss with a swimmer that they won’t be able to reach their goals, and that sometimes they have to readjust the ladder, so to speak. An example of this would be when an athlete is injured.

“When it comes to injuries, a decision has to be made. This is as much about the rest of your life as about swimming.” If it’s severe enough, and perhaps surgery is needed, is it worth it to keep going at the risk of your health after the sport?

“You can’t tell a kid to stop climbing…ever. You can’t stunt their potential like that. A coach can’t put limits on their swimmers. You may not be the best on the team in a stroke or an event, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be the best at a part of that stroke or event. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep climbing.”