Growing up in Texas I was involved in very high level swimming. At age 10 I was a part of one of the countries fastest relay teams. We coasted through the Texas State Championships, swam twice a day in the summers, and really had a great time together. When I moved to Ohio, the swimming program was less focused and I drifted out of the sport. I picked it back up and competed in the Ohio state championships in high school. From there I was fortunate to experience just enough college level training to realize that I wasn't interested in committing that much of my life to the sport. Clearly I am no Michael Phelps. Heck, I wouldn't even have to get into the pool to prove that to anyone, I could be identified as not being anywhere in the same league simply standing by the side of the pool in a swimsuit. Unlike golf where I can dress the part, a Speedo swimsuit quickly betrays my lack of training.
When the dream was gone, I was able to simply walk away with my head held high because it had been a decision not to pursue that interest anymore. In America, we get that choice. There has been some coverage of the Chinese Olympic machine, but much is glossed over. I expect that one brave journalist will come home to write their memoirs about what they observed in the Chinese athletes. I heard some dialog during the gymnastics portion about a Chinese athlete who had been put into the program at age 3. This isn't like in America where you go to football practice then go home to your parents, it's a full-time away from home program. During her early teen years (prime competition age for a Chinese athlete...against the rules, but prime age nonetheless) she desperately wanted to go home and quit. Her parents told her to stay because of what it would mean to her family if she stayed. When I wanted to quit swimming my parents told me I could quit at age 13, but they emphasized that they wanted me to learn the importance of commitment and seeing things that I start through to the end. It was about a lesson.
I am thankful that I was able to make a choice and pursue the life of my choosing. Perhaps being forced to compete could have one day yielded me an Olympic trial, but how many athletes were forced to dedicate themselves to the programs only to fizzle out in the end. I am sure that they were gracefully told they were wasting space in the pool because they wouldn't be one of the top three. I will take freedom and be accountable for my decisions over forced success anyday.