When I did my first triathlon 7 years ago, I had a coach that finally broke through that initial fear of drowning in the pool. That was a big hurdle for me because I grew up with a lifelong fear of drowning. Funny how the good intentions of my dad throwing me in the deep end of the pool to teach me how to swim traumatized me for life. But that is another story!
My coach was able to get me to swim comfortably in the pool,even treading water in the deep end. So when it came to doing my first triathlon, starting with a simple swim of 300 yards,I was feeling good because I knew I was able to swim that and then some nonstop in training.
I was ready, or so I thought.
After 50 yards, I had a panic attack, couldn’t catch my breath and essentially walked the last 250 yards. When the pool was deep, I dragged myself along the ropes. I finished but I was embarrassed and almost quit doing races after that.
Yes, I had a coach, who could teach me the physical components of swimming but with my previous history, I needed more.
I needed a mentor.
Someone who was compassionate with a little bit of grit. Who understood high pressure situations and had the mental fortitude to adjust to anxiety and challenges on the fly.
Fast forward 3 years and I ran into Craig, my swim coach today.
With Craig, it just wasn’t about the techniques, it was about having a bulletproof mindset to push past the fears that I had. It didn’t hurt that he was a retired airline commercial pilot with over 20 years of service. Talk about pressure situations. When I break down in the pool, I can just stand up and catch my breath. When the plane breaks down at 30,000 feet, well, that’s another story.
I remember his stories of courage, swimming essentially with one arm because he had so much pain during a multi mile swim in the open-water. The little words of encouragement, the uplifting and praise with the small steps forward, that's what I needed.
That’s what mentor ship was all about.
And it wasn’t all lovely dovey. We had some moments when the grit came out. I remember one-day swimming in the lake outside my home and I started to get another panic attack. It was one of the first times I started swimming in the open water. He didn’t have me stop to regain my composure. He told me to man up and suck it up.
And I did and finished swimming the rest of the lesson.
After 6 months of training with Craig, I stepped up to the line of my first half iron man, 1.2 miles of swimming in the open water, miles on the bike and 13.1 miles of running.
The funny thing was, unlike other starts, this was different.
I had no fears, I wasn’t anxious or worried.
I was excited about swimming today.
That race was exciting, especially at mile 13 of the run because I was on empty and my body hurt something awful. Even more exciting was that I had fun during the swim and enjoyed every minute of it, swimming faster than any time I clocked in practice.
I caught up with Craig a few days later and I told him I had bigger goals in mind and to be patient with me since I wasn’t one of his best students. He told me:
“Terence, I’ve been teaching people how to swim for almost 20 years and I could teach a rock how to swim. However, after a few lessons with you, I thought about giving you your money back. I didn’t think you could do it and now you are a half-iron man. You're my best student because you would quit no matter what. I’m proud to be your coach”
He said coach and now when I reflect upon that, he definitely was more of a mentor to me.
He talked with me to overcome my fears and not at me.
He focused on building my long term mindset for success instead of a short term one just to get through one race.
Whatever journey you choose, coaches are great because you need the structure to get you from point a to b.
However, its more about the journey and not the finish. That’s where mentor ship is second to none.
Until next time, take care and be well!
Terence Young, MD
a.k.a. The Doctorpreneur
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