If you didn't notice, I absolutely cherish this young woman. She reminds me of all my favorite female swimmers, the ones I traveled with on the USA Swimming National Team.
Megan's as sweet as they come, but by no means a push over. When she swims, she swims to win. She's the best kind of competitor; one you respect for their toughness, but also want to hang out with.
My time has come and gone. I don't have much in common with this new generation of champions, other than a shared history and a mutual understanding of the time sacrificed to achieve--and, on occasion, the feeling that that time was lost.
Megan understands losing. I don't think she'd like for me to dwell on her 2004 Trials swim, when she missed making the Olympic Team by a mere 11 one-hundreds of a second, but it makes my heart feel like bursting whenever I think of it...
The emotion is all summed up in numbers; the years, days, and hours lost. The time lost. I can't speak for Megan, but I know (as many athletes do) how lonely and depressing it is when you lose. You do question yourself. You do wonder if you've wasted your time. (I've been watching network sports for decades, but I've never really heard an athlete speak from that place, that absolute bottom. There is always an "uptick" woven in thematically. The narrative's manipulated for an audience that will only pay attention for the two minute news-opera-bio before they disengage and leave...)
In nontraditional sports (often Olympic sports) big moments to perform are so rare. You spend a lifetime to prepare for what may only be one, two, or if you're lucky, three life-defining competitions. When you lose, it does feels like death. Many athletes describe it that way -- a part me died. I'd like to add that that part doesn't always heal or grow back. That hurt occupies a little part of your brain, and when it's electrically tapped, it cuts your breath away in pain. For me it feels like heartburn, followed by a very, very bitter acid-taste.
Sounds awful, huh? It's not. Not really. In fact I don't fully trust any athlete (or any one for that matter) who hasn't been knocked back on their butt. Everyone has "eaten it" at one point or another. Even Michael Phelps. (Lest we forget, he lost in 2004 to Ian Thorpe in the 200 free--before he came back and ran away with that race in Beijing.)
As for Megan, I can't imagine winning gold at the Olympics, and then waiting and training and sacrificing for a full eight years before tasting it again. I know she had help. I know she loves her husband, Nathan, and I know how kind and loyal he was and has been. I think their story, as a couple, is as interesting as any I've heard. I wish I could write their book, but I have a feeling they're going to write it themselves...
One correction. I have a little more in common with Megan and Nathan, despite the age gap. Aside from both being writers and married (as I am), they are mature beyond their years. Megan and Nathan also held my hand, so to speak, when I got my first tattoo, the Olympic Rings. I would not have done it without their help. Here's the vid:
Beijing Olympics, Get Wet Get FIt, Gold Medal Mel, Megan Jendrick, Mel Stewart, Nathan Jendrick, Olympic Gold Medalist, Olympic Swimming, Olympic Trials, Quann, Sydney Olympics, USA Swimming, USA Swimming Foundation