While racism is no longer seen as a hot-button issue, there are still undercurrents of racial discrimination that plague minorities today. This is an interesting article from New York Magazine about some of the social challenges that Asian-Americans face, why we must care, and what we can do to overcome these self-imposed barriers.
As our lives are taken over by Google Calendars that tell us to be in three places at once and bulging backpacks of crumpled loose leaf papers and fat pequods, it’s easy to lose sight of the purpose behind our goals. Sometimes, it’s simpler to just mindlessly obey a packed schedule knowing that you are going to be one task closer to being where you want to be.
But where do you want to be? And why?
I found an amazing story yesterday of someone who doesn’t have very much, but carries more heart than almost everybody I know. Juan’s story can teach us all a lesson about goals, and the real meaning of determination.
Juan’s Journey Beginsby Mike Gustafson
Imagine waking at 4am. It is the morning of your first-ever USA Swimming meet. But you have no car, no transportation, no ride, no carpool. To get to the meet, you must take a bus at 4:45am, four trains, and walk three miles. Since you are not on a team, you travel alone. No coach welcomes you. No teammates help calm your nerves. After a four hour journey across town, you finally arrive.
And that’s the easy part.
19-year-old Juan Reyes decided a while ago that he would be a competitive swimmer. After watching his heroes, Michael Phelps and Ricky Berens, swimming on TV, he fell in love with the sport, though there are no teams in his high-crime neighborhood of Lennox, California. So Juan signed up with USA Swimming as an unattached swimmer. He rides buses at 4:45am to get to the nearest lap swimming pool. He passes gangs. He drives beyond suspect-looking areas. He trains by himself in the lap pool, then treks back home. And finally, after months of a monotonous, lonely routine, last weekend Juan competed in his first official USA Swimming meet at the Rose Bowl pool in Pasadena.
“Well, when I first got there, I didn’t know what to do,” Carlos said. “I was just walking around, looking for an administration person.”
A lot of us take for granted the things that Juan found confusing: heats, check-in tables, designated warm-up lanes, waiting hours to swim, psyche sheets, heat sheets, and starting blocks. With no coach to explain the meet process to him, Juan arrived at the pool and approached the concessions stand, in hopes that someone could explain where to go and what to do. He overheard someone say, “Check-in table,” and so he went there. Thankfully, meet director Maureen Lennon was on-hand to explain the process to Juan and help him understand the meet format.
Even using starting blocks was something new.
“They don’t allow us to use the blocks when I go lap swimming,” Juan said. “So I just go off the edge of the pool to practice.”
For weeks before the meet, Juan was nervous. Glenn Mills over at GoSwim! heard about Juan from the article I wrote a few weeks ago, and Glenn gave Juan a free subscription to his website, GoSwim! From there, Juan watched videos about stroke techniques, flip turns (which he admits he must work on), and underwater footage. The process was invaluable for Juan since he does not have a coach working with him. He must coach himself. He spent the better part of the entire week before the meet pouring over the videos like a kid studying for the SATs.
Finally, when the race came – the 50 yard freestyle – Juan was ready. He stood behind his lane and waited for his heat. He put his headphones on to calm his nerves. Since he didn’t have a coach telling him where to go or what to do, Juan had to know what to do when his heat was called. He tried to listen to the announcer but couldn’t quite hear him. After a few minutes, Juan walked up to the timers and told him his name and that he was there to swim the 50.
“What heat are you in?” the timer asked him.
“Well,” one of the timers said, pointing to the water. “That’s heat 103 right there”
After months of training by himself, waking up at 4am every day, jogging, swimming laps, pouring over stroke technique videos, trekking nearly 4 hours through Los Angeles to get to the swim meet, Juan had missed his event. He was heartbroken. He had to watch his heat swim without him. After all that.
But, like a stroke of good luck, Maureen Lennon, the meet director, was once again there and arranged for Juan to swim a time trial. So Juan stepped up, all by himself, with all the eyes on him, jumped off the starting blocks for the first time, and raced.
“This first competition has motivated me to work even harder,” Juan said. “Now that I know I need to work harder, push myself to get faster. Learn different techniques for the freestyle or the butterfly, just to improve myself. That way for my next competition, I can compete against swimmers who have a swim coach.”
The hard part is over. Oh, I don’t mean the trekking tens of miles each day to lap swim. Juan can handle that. I don’t mean the doubles, the lonely hours swimming by himself, watching training videos, or wondering if he’s doing a flip turn correctly. Juan can handle that, too. The hard part – his first meet, the logistics, the chaos of it all – Juan now understands it. He knows what to expect.
“This is what I like doing,” Juan said. “This is what I enjoy. I got advice before the meet from Mr. Mills. He said, ‘Whatever time you get is whatever time you get – so just enjoy.’ And that’s what I did. I will continue to train. Continue to get faster. This is only the beginning.”
And so, Juan will keep swimming. He is determined. Ready. Though he’s got a long way to go, this is a kid who knows how to get there. He’ll skip the gangs. The violence. The gunshots in Lennox. He won’t stop until he gets to the pool, each morning, every day. He’ll get there anyway he can. By bus. By train. By foot.