A Letter From a Falling Star

Slovakia, 2016

It starts with a scream. Why? it torments. Why do you keep doing this pointless thing? The world darkens. My breathing tightens. Suddenly, the screamer has a face. Now his words overpower me: You know you won’t ever make it, right? It takes all of my concentration to push the darkness back, or more accurately, away. I inhale, exhale, inhale, and remind myself that he’s just a demon, bully, anxiety, or whatever you’d like to call him.

This time I’m lucky. When it’s someone, I can counter him. But what about when there is nobody, just darkness, and it’s my own words slapping me in the face? What about when my mind splits in two and the sides start arguing? And when it splits in three?

On a personal level, life was not easy. For years, I battled my inner and outer demons on my own. The outside world did nothing to alleviate my suffering. If anything, people made it worse. My only relief was doing lap after lap in a pool, letting the water cushion me and cleanse me of my pain. Swimming has a way of isolating me and protecting me from those plagued with cruelty. The water is my sacred space, and invading it is a sin.

A bit over a year ago, I was forced to stop training and leave my whole life behind. Eight depressive months later, I had the opportunity of a lifetime: to go to a training camp with swimmers on the international level. The only problem was that I was dreadfully out of shape. By some miracle, their coach agreed to take me on and get me back on track. During those three weeks of camp I was incredibly excited and simultaneously scared to death. It took all of my love, stubbornness, sweat, and tears, but somehow, I did it. I completed the camp and became a competitive swimmer again.

Belmeken, 2018

Let’s rewind to another story. When I was 13, I swam with one of the best teams in the US. Sadly, my newbie coach wasn’t as professional as he’d made himself out to be. Excessive training with little recovery caused me to suffer from a condition called over-training — burnout that takes months to heal. After finally getting my doctor’s permission to swim again, I took me two mentally crippling years to catch up to my old achievements. By then, my entire age group had outswum me. I went from beating asthma and winning medals to the unceremonious bottom five. Although I’ve risen in the ranks since then, I have yet to win a medal.

After a few more similar life experiences, I had had enough. I sought help, which was one of my best decisions yet. I was constantly struggling with excessive anger, major anxiety, and bouts of depression — which made trying to graduate with excellent grades while preparing for the biggest swim meet of the summer quite challenging. Luckily, I got better.

I haven’t given up — not on swimming and not on my mental health. I admit; I don’t always believe in myself. Would I have made a comeback to the sport, would my mental condition have improved so drastically if I didn’t think I stood a chance? No. Still, I have a long way to go before I reach my goals. Despite everything, deep in my subconscious, my naïveté thrives. I’m still a child with a dream.

I’m still a child because every time I jump into the pool, something inside of me lets go, because every time I do a good set, I do a small dance in my head, because every time I dolphin kick, I do it like a mermaid, because other people don’t matter to me, just me, my accomplishments, and my failures. I’m still a child because I haven’t given in.

I chose and continue to choose the road less traveled by. I may have been a rising athlete who burned out and fell, but don’t we wish upon falling stars?

We determine who we are. We decide whether we can or cannot succeed.

I give myself wings.