Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lessons learned in the pool

My Noh-man, swimmer extraordinaire, has been diligently striving to qualify for the Eastern Zone Championship all summer long. While Bub qualified last year as a 10-year old, it's not nearly as common for kiddos to do so at age 9. As of this writing, only two have done it thus far in the entire state of VA... & if you happened to read my post on Monday, you know my Noh-man is one of them. But that's what my story is all about :)

So anyhoo, Noh snatched his first 3 qualifying times (he needs 4) fairly early in the longcourse season (April-July: swimmers compete in a 50m pool instead of a 25yd one), but that fourth bugger has been... well, a bug. He's missed that cut in the past few meets by a mere quarter of a second. In Baltimore, he'd get another shot.

Well, last Friday that opportunity came and went, and just as in races past, Noh narrowly missed his cut. BUT... the cup was half full, my friend, because that night, in the finals round, he would get one more chance. You see, the top 8 finishers in each event were slated to compete again, and since Noh had finished third, he would be there.

So enter Friday night, ~ 7pm. Noh stood behind the starting block in lane 5, ready to attack the 200 meter freestyle one. more. time. He was flanked on either side by 2 fellows who had just out-touched him in the preliminaries, but he was undaunted. Focused. Prepared.

At the far end of the pool Mom cheered with Big Man & Lollipop. Chris watched (and cheered) from the starting end of the pool, and I squatted at the end of Noh's lane with my dad, stopwatch in hand... hovering, screaming, urging him on to victory.

Now a quick note about my dad-- he's an engineer, a numbers kind of guy, a mathematical genius for sure. He knows *all* the boys' times by heart-- their splits, their seeds, their goals... every statistical nugget needed to determine their chances of success at any given point in a race. So as Noh-man torpedoed through that 200 free, at each and every flip turn he made, Dad KNEW whether or not he was on track for the Zone cut. My boy had to swim that 200 meters in 2:41:39-- that's 2 minutes, 40 seconds, and 39 hundredths of a second (or less) if he was going to qualify for the Eastern Zone Championship that evening.

So, for the first 3 legs... he. looked. good. Off the wall he flew through his first two turns, and off the wall he flew through his last one. With only 50 meters to go, Noh-man was swimming to beat the band; surely he'd finish in time.

And then Dad glanced at his watch... and proceeded to break my heart. "He's not gonna make it," he said as he dejectedly looked to the ground. Immediately my heart sank to the floor because evidently, Noh was too far off the pace. The seconds would tick by and so would that qualification he so desperately wanted-- he would not reach the wall in time. Still, we rose to our feet and cheered him on to the very end.

Now... hang with me... because this is where the story gets really good. Remember those 2 young fellas who were seeded above my Noh-man, those two little whipper-snappers who were just a fraction of a second faster than him in the prelims?? Well... they took off. Infused by some extraordinary jet propulsion power, they stretched their lead and zoomed closer to the finish line, leaving my Noh and the rest of the swimmers farther behind. Noh, ever determined, however, continued to motor on, and as he neared the end of the pool, my dad looked at his watch one more time. A tiny glimmer of hope crept across his lips... because there was still 10 seconds left before the Zone cut expired, and Noh was currently cruising at a mighty fast pace. I turned to stare at the score board-- desperate for his time to flash across the screen.

I waited. And I waited. And I waited for what seemed like an eternity.... for Noh's final time to appear in bright neon yellow. And then finally, it was there.



2:41:00 for the swimmer in lane 5.

Two minutes, 41 seconds flat. He finished with 39 hundredths of a second to spare.

Once again, the Lord had provided. He had met the need-- precisely.

God. is. good.

Needless to say, we all did the happy dance right there on the pool deck-- we hooted, we hollered, we partied like it was 1999... because our boy had done it.

He had done it. By God's amazing grace, he had done it.


Shortly thereafter, I asked him, "When did you know you had done it? Did you hear us screaming at the other end? Did you see me dancing (not a pretty sight, I'll tell you)? Did your timer tell you? Did daddy rush over from his lane to share the great news? Did you see the scoreboard? Please tell me... when did you know?"

"Well, I thought I heard you screaming, but I didn't want to look. So I took my time in taking off my cap and goggles..."

He didn't want to look.

He didn't want to look because he was too afraid of being disappointed yet again. And even as I write this I cry... because my boy-- my fighter-- my champion-- my teacher... didn't quit. He didn't give up. He swam that last 50m stretch with all his might even as those 2 super fast fellas pulled farther ahead... closer and closer to the finish line and that coveted Zone cut time. If they were so close to qualifying earlier that day in the prelims, Noh assumed-- surely they'd be close to it again. And who knows? Perhaps this time they'd make it. But he wouldn't... because he couldn't keep that pace... and the prize would, once again, remain just beyond his grasp.

At that very the pool... when Noh-man made that conscious realization--
Discouraged? Yes.
Disheartened? You bet.
Defeated? Not on your life.

How easy would it have been for him-- upon seeing those 2 fast little dudes stretch their lead--to turn off his jets... to downshift into 4th gear... to coast to the finish line, satisfied with a race well swum, but heartsick over the results? How easy would it have been for him to pause in his efforts, even if for a second, to recollect his thoughts, reassess his strategy, redetermine his game plan... when a pause for a mere fraction of a second would surely determine the outcome? I mean after all, he was already convinced that the prize for which he'd so incredibly labored was now out of reach. Why continue to fight?

Because the prize was worth the fight. Period.

Because the prize was worth the fight, Noh-man didn't ease across the finish line. And he didn't pause in his labors, even though defeat was all but certain. Instead he kicked it up another notch and did the IMPOSSIBLE. By God's amazing grace and by Holy Spirit-power, he flew. He flew. He flew.

Jesus looked at them and said,
"With man this is impossible,
but with God all things are possible."

Matthew 19:26


Since that night I've wondered. How often do I do THAT in the course of my everyday? How often do I turn on my jets and race to the end, even when defeat seems all but inevitable? How often do I refuse... absolutely refuse... to surrender, even when the goal seems helplessly out of reach? How often do I deny discouragement and disappointment a foothold in my heart, and how often do I press the gas pedal still further, trusting in Holy Spirit-power to lead me to the end?

Truth be told... not as often as I care to admit.

But let me ask you this?? If a courageous 9yo boy can fight with everything he's got, why can't I? Why shouldn't I? Why don't I?

I don't know, but I must... because the prize in this life is worth so much more. Knowing Jesus and bringing glory to His name-- that's what it's all about. Even when it's tough...

The Prize is worth the fight.

"Well done, good and faithful servant...
come and share your master's happiness!"


Well done. Well done. Well done. You have finished the race, and you have finished it well.

What can be better than that??!

Thank you, heavenly Father, for your endlessly wonderful gifts.
And thank you for the champion-sized heart of my 9 year-old boy
and the lesson you've used him to teach~

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross,
scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of God.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Hebrews 12:1-3


Leslie said...

Thanks for the gripping story and the perfect reminder of why and how we race, Heath. And, WAY TO GO, NOH!!! We love you and are so proud of you!!! Aunt Leslie and crew

Carrie said...

I was on the edge of my seat just reading about it!!

Way to go, Noh- Man!!!!

Praise God!!!

gretchen said...

Wow!!! I'm speechless! Great job Nohman - You've got GREAT HEART!!!!! So proud of you and your brother! Joshy wants to grow up and be a swimmer just like you guys... thanks Heather, for the reminder... our battle is everyday... our struggle is everyday... and it's always worth the fight! Awesome post my friend. Inspirational! Love you all!

Linda said...

Oh Heather, hard to read to the end because it suddenly got all blurry. I am so proud of your boy. What a courageous, steady heart he has.
You are a wonderful story-teller. I could hardly wait to find out what happened. And the analogy is perfect. We have so much to be passionate about.
Give Noh a big pat on the back from a fan in Texas!

Anonymous said...

Way to go NOH-MAN!!!!! Your mom certainly knows how to tell a story and you know how to create a cliff-hanger. What a wonderful way to swim your heart out. Love, Gramoggie & Poppa

Anonymous said...

So proud of both of my "rule the pool"grandsons. You've had a great summer thus far! It's not over yet--your focus, endurance and determination has been an inspiration and joy to watch! Love to all, Gmom P.S. Nohman you kept us on the edge, but your determination and many prayers saw you through! GOD IS GOOD, ALL THE TIME!

Kellie said...

I've been lurking on your blog for a while -- love all your beautiful pictures and spiritual applications -- but I just had to comment on this post because it had me in tears. My oldest is a swimmer too, although not at the level of your boys. She had a big goal last weekend too, to get an A time in the 200 breast. Only she still fell short. She was crushed, and I struggled with finding the right words to comfort her. But your post puts it in such perspective, so I'm definitely going to have her read it. It's important to keep that eternal perspective, even when things like a swimming event seem so big.