3:00 even! That’s how long it took me to breaststroke 100m in our neighbourhood pool this afternoon. I had to slow down at 50m or I would have had a stroke. I was trying to see how close I could get to Olympian Tera Van Beilen’s London qualifying time of 1:07:37. (Must have been my shoulder tendonitis that slowed me up!!).
Standing at the edge of the pool sucking for air, I noticed a woman two lanes over flying by. I’d never seen anybody move that fast in our pool before. I connected with her a few minutes later in the hot tub. “Are you a competitive swimmer… because that was fast!” Turns out she was. Five years ago she swam 50m freestyle, on scholarship, for a school in Boston. But then she suffered a career ending shoulder injury. “It’s taken me almost 5 years to get over the disappointment,” she said, “although given what you just witnessed, maybe I still haven’t given it up.” You could see the pain in her face.
“Would you mind if I asked you a few swimming questions,” I said, “I’m working on a sermon on Olympian Tera Van Beilen for Sunday, and I’d love to learn more about what goes on in a competitive swimmer’s head.” She knew all about Tera and kindly shared some of her insights on the topic. At one point she spoke of the euphoria she felt while going all out in a heat, “I’d do anything to feel that feeling again.” I asked her if she’d ever made any spiritual connections to those magical moments. She said that it was a very spiritual place for her. I then recited St. Irenaus’ famous quote, “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.” “That’s exactly what it feels like; fully alive,” she responded. “Fully you,” I said. She nodded in agreement
After a short pause I said, “But I don’t think that fully alive moment is limited to the pool. I think we’re meant to feel it everywhere – relationally, aesthetically, at work, at home.” I was trying to encourage her I guess. After a few more words I had to leave and go find my swimming partner Edward.
Driving home I thought about Olivia’s broken dream. Meeting her seemed like a necessary corrective to the very positive story that was playing out for Tera. I’ll have to work both stories into Sunday’s message.