It was Elijah’s first Speedo swim meet today at Xavier School. He was nervous and tense. So was I!
I’ve always been into team sports so the thought of Elijah having to compete as an individual made my stomach churn. Plus, he had to replace his swim cap, and he destroyed his goggles the week prior (in frustration). We dealt with this. However, this meant he was swimming with new and unfamiliar gear.
“All these factors make a difference when you are a swimmer,” according to Edric, who used to compete in his high school years.
I could feel how tense Elijah was when I arrived at the meet. The kids and I came later since getting up at 5:30 AM to accompany him to his 6:00 AM call-time was too difficult for us. Edric, however, made it a point to be with Elijah. They went ahead together, and Edric updated me as the morning progressed.
By the time the rest of us made it to the Xavier campus, Elijah had finished two events. He did fairly well during the first one, where he scored significantly lower than his practice time for the Homeschool Global relay. However, his goggles, which he hadn’t swam with until today, kept coming off his face. That was upsetting to him. He was the only one who had this problem. He had no choice but to figure out how to deal with that issue and keep swimming through each race. Edric also coached him by reminding him to press on no matter what.
When Elijah was up for his third event, he made a big boo-boo. In fact, I had to ask for permission to write this post because it was a very embarrassing moment for him. First, he had his shirt on when he readied himself to jump into the pool. The event was the butterfly. Everyone noticed that his shirt was still on. We were frantically calling out to him, “Elijah, your shirt! Your shirt! Remove your shirt!”
He didn’t hear us.
It wasn’t even a dry-fit shirt. It was a cotton shirt!
The whistle was blown and he dove into the water furiously doing his freestyle strokes. But, wait a minute! He was supposed to be doing the butterfly like every one else was!
About five meters into the pool, he realized that his shirt was still on, and he was swimming the wrong stroke. Of course, he was mortified! He stopped and threw off his shirt. People on the sidelines who saw what happened gasped as they witnessed his mistake. I was also in shock. All of us were.
I saw the tears collecting in Elijah’s eyes. He was angry and disappointed with himself. However, Edric told him to keep going. He did. Needless to say, he finished last in this heat, and he was disqualified for starting off with the wrong stroke. He stormed off utterly embarrassed and discouraged.
As his mom, I wanted to hug him and cry. I saw how crushed he was. Who swims in a competition wearing a casual, cotton shirt?! And who does so while failing to do the right stroke?
There were hundreds of other swimmers there, and parents looking on as he made these mistakes. I didn’t really care too much about what they thought, but I knew that Elijah probably did.
When Edric and I were reunited with him in the cafeteria area, he was speaking with his coach, leaning against the wall in tears. We approached him cautiously, trying to gauge what we ought to say and not say.
I offered to buy him lunch since he had a long break before his next heat. As I asked the concessionaire to serve him pasta and lasagna to get him some carbohydrate energy, I started blabbing about how it was okay, it was going to be okay. He actually said, “Mom, please stop talking.”
Edric looked at me and snickered a bit. As a guy and a once-upon-a-time swimmer, he had a more accurate idea of what Elijah was thinking and feeling. Therefore, I stepped aside to let him take over, which he masterfully did. Edric brought us to a more private area where we could listen to Elijah, and offer him encouragement and practical wisdom.
Elijah felt like quitting at this point. This was one of the most humiliating experiences of his life. He didn’t know how to recover from it.
As Edric and I listened, we tried to share our own bloopers and blunders to lighten his mood. However, it was Edric’s challenge to him that probably made the biggest difference.
“Elijah, you have two choices. You can quit and walk away. Or, you can suck it in and keep trying your best.”
He assured him that we loved him and nothing would change that. He also reminded him that an event like this was a man-building, character-shaping moment. This would be the greater victory in all of this.
I made sure to smile and offer encouragement where I could, but this was really Edric and Elijah’s space. This was a guy thing — something that Edric was much better at navigating through with Elijah than I was.
Afterwards, Elijah walked back to be with his teammates, and Edric and I prayed for him.
I really prayed hard! “Lord, please redeem this. Please help him to do excellently in the next events.”
About two hours later, he was up for the backstroke. I know he was still reeling from what happened but he showed up at the platform anyway, in the middle lane, readying himself. Thankfully, he wasn’t wearing his shirt this time!
Then an amazing thing happened. He came in first! And he came in first again during the breast stroke. For freestyle he was second, and he did a great job on the final relay with his teammates, beating his previous time.
When we were headed home as a family, he smiled with gratification as he shared, “This was one of the best days of my life!”
“Really?! Why?” I asked. I knew how horrified he was earlier in the day when he made the boo-boos he did.
“Because I learned so many life lessons, and I felt fulfilled.”
“Like what life lessons?” I probed.
“Like grit. To keep on trying. To do my best.”
He added, “Dad you really helped me. I am so glad you were there. And mom, thanks for smiling the whole time.”
A smile was all I was good for, but I am glad it made a difference somehow!
Edric and I were so happy to hear this, but the overriding feelings were of pride and thankfulness to the Lord. We were so proud of Elijah for growing in character. God orchestrated the day to give him a crash course on failing forward. From someone who wanted to quit and give up, who was at such a low point, he rose above his emotions to overcome his fears, disappointment, and embarrassment. He also revealed to me later on that he hoped to be a good testimony and example to his teammates.
As my children get older, I know I can’t control or manipulate circumstances to favor them. For example, during the swim meet, I couldn’t tell the judges to give Elijah another chance after he made his mistake. I couldn’t force them to doctor the results to say he hadn’t been disqualified from the third event, when he used the wrong stroke. Furthermore, I couldn’t regain confidence on his behalf. In fact, the only thing I could do was to be there for him, to listen, and to pray.
All our kids are going to face challenging moments and seasons in their lives where they will be heartbroken, dreadfully humiliated, and feel like they are unworthy, inadequate, and lost. However, if we can connect them to the Lord, especially at an early age, they will find an anchor in Him, a reason to persevere through the hardships, and the enabling to overcome. Our most significant roles will be to encourage to to pray. Pray hard!!!