Sunday, August 18

If Life Had Been Different

I was looking through boxes today and found things I had thought were lost, and others I'm not sure I had ever seen before. Illinois State Scholar award letters (I got that?). Receipts from everything I bought during my mission. Every letter I received in Italy. Recruitment letters from majors and clubs at BYU (ironic, since one was for food science... and if I went back I'd study more of that). And then a box taped shut, marked David twice... full of plastic containers packed with ribbons and medals from my swimming years.

I had thought that all the ribbons and medals had been thrown away. But there they were, in a box that has been sitting in my room, untouched, for a year.

And it made me wonder.

My dad tells me that when I was 12, I was one of the top 20  swimmers in the country in my age group. I swam freestyle and butterfly, and competed every weekend in meets and invitationals... and most of my ribbons are blue. There were a handful of us that swam the relay for Team Illinois at the Zone meet, and I would look forward to statewide invitationals because I knew I'd have good competition with a couple of rivals who fought for first.

A few years later, though, few people even knew that I had ever been a swimmer. I had decided that swimming wasn't going to be my life, and I cut it off completely. I think it took my dad years to forgive me for that choice... and even now he wonders why I did it.

Some of the conference records I set still stand back at home, in some cases almost 20 years after I was there. Some of my rivals still swim, too. Matt Grevers, who lived just a few cities away, became an Olympic medalist.

And I find myself looking at ribbons and medals in the box, wondering how my life would be different today if I had made a different choice. If, instead of moving from an obvious talent to focus more on other things, I had stuck with what I was good at, at least in this one thing.

I don't know.

The reality is that it wasn't a decision to run away from Olympic glory or blue ribbons. It was a symptom of a struggle that took years to resolve. I was good at swimming, and yet I didn't have to work as hard as the others. I could slack, or at least it seemed that way, and still lead the lane, or be the best at practice, still win meets and get blue ribbons. And something about that made me sick inside. I couldn't understand it, and so I ran away. I don't know if the intense competition that gave me headaches was from chlorine or stress. If the smells and sounds were familiar or noxious. Maybe I just wanted to do something other than sit on a deck for hours each weekend waiting for my 4 sets of 21.34 seconds of glory. Maybe God's hand was in it.

Either way, I left. My coach never stopped asking me to come back, and my dad never stopped clipping newspaper articles about the kids who had once been my rivals.

I don't know what would be different today. Maybe life would be easier. Maybe it would be harder.

Regardless, the choice happened. It's not going to change, and I can't really see what would have happened otherwise. It's all conjecture after that point.

I guess I just wonder. And I assume that's a universal human trait - wondering how life would be different if choices had been made differently.

I don't think I'm going to throw away my box of ribbons and medals. But I also don't think there will be any new additions anytime soon.

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