Why Being a Mediocre High School Athlete Helped Save My Life

I grew up as a fish; a Nebraska, land locked fish, but a fish nonetheless.  My family loved to boat, waterski and spend weekends together hanging out with friends.  My first memories are of swimming and skiing, having birthday parties hanging out on the boat and talking about boys.  Memories of my dad having the patience to drive the boat in circles until I finally stood on a solemn ski.  My mom, getting in the water to hold my first skiis straight so I could have a chance of being successful.  Me, now with chemo induced neuropathy and hatred for the cold, getting in with each of my three kids and holding their skiis straight.  I feel frostbitten even though it is mid-July, but smiling because I am HERE  to do this.  Especially, enjoying being out on the water on early weekend mornings when the lake is still mostly quiet.  A favorite song  by Hozier, “Take Me to Church,” plays in my head because a quiet Sunday morning on the lake is my church.  Yes, I know this isn’t the intended meaning of the song.  To me though, my church, is anywhere I find family, the stillness of the day and memories of my father.

I think knowing me is knowing how much I love the water.  The majority of MY story has the lake or a swimming pool smack dab in the middle.  Our lake represents the importance of family and strong friendships.  Time away from technology with our kids.  Summers around the grill and s’mores around the bonfire.  Sunburns and actual conversations with our kids. Understanding the personal importance of converting my pale skinned, red headed Michigander boyfriend to a Nebraska heat tolerating boater before I married him.  It was a non-negotiable because I was raised on the water and I wouldn’t have it any other way for my kids.

My favorite smell is chlorine.  The smell of a hot, indoor, humidity filled pool.  I would buy a candle if they could bottle the scent.  I had tried gymnastics and watched my sister play sports like soccer.  Unfortunately, I lacked the flexibility and coordination.  I was a kid that swam like a dolphin in a life jacket so a swim team transition in sixth grade didn’t seem to be a far jump.  This is before the days of competitive travel baseball teams by the age of 6 and coaches deciding if you had varsity player potential by seventh grade.  I had high hopes going into first practices that I would be decent, but the swimming world was 20 years before the rest of sports.  These kids had been swimming competitively since they were 8.  I had hoped that you didn’t need to be highly coordinated to swim.  Wrong.  Additionally, my resting heart rate was high even at 11.  Persistence became my super power.  I worked hard to become fast enough to practice in a lane with kids my own age; albeit at the end of the line.  

Turns out I loved it.  I wasn’t amazing, but I was passionate.  I was first in the water during summer morning practices.  Not because I was excited about the unheated, outdoor pool, but because if I jumped in fast enough and got far enough ahead of my friends that were dawdling; their was a small chance that in an outdoor meter pool, I wouldn’t be lapped by my fast teammates.  I had amazingly fast friends … the kind that won state, competed at Olympic trials and went on to swim Division I college.  I didn’t have “it” to be truly fast in swimming and I couldn’t seem to figure out what “it” was.  “It” wasn’t attending and working hard at every practice.  I dated a guy through most of high school who seemed to have “it,” but he was burned out.  He had been practicing since he was eight and he was just over “it.”  He practiced “ most days” , and “most” days he gave decent effort, but he always seemed to end up on the podium.  It seemed so natural for him.  His swimming family accepted me though and boy did I love that guy and so I felt fairly fast just because the actual fast kids kept including me.  Turns out, I wasn’t even close to fast.  I kept showing up though.  I became good enough to be on the varsity team as a freshman and to identify myself as a swimmer.  Not once, after all those years, did I stand on a podium.  

July 2022 – Wake Surfing with 1 lung and a couple missing ribs

My favorite coach, David Lammel was tough.  He didn’t give out praise just to talk, you had to earn it.  Feedback on your technique was a lso earned, and when I received it, I was elated for the rest of practice.  I kept showing up. I kept working hard.  I was high school team captain because I was an excellent team supporter, not so much a scorer.  Senior year of high school, I seemed to get slower.  It was before we knew the importance of dry land conditioning and my shoulders hurt.  Before I knew about the importance of protein and a good balance of carbs.  I was getting heavier instead of leaner.  But here in the thing, I won high school homecoming queen.  Completely unexpected.  My parents and my boyfriend’s mom were there to see the ceremony.  Guess who was also there, standing in the back corner … David Lammel.  All those years, he had SEEN me.  I was never on the podium, but him being at the high school on a Saturday night for his most mediocre swimmer meant so much to me.  I had been appreciated and noted for my effort and determination, even if it didn’t translate into something more.  

We never talked about it.  He wasn’t really a talker.  30 years later, I occasionally walk my son into a swim meet held at my old high school.  I’ve been bald on several of these occasions.  I’ve seen coach Lammel from afar, still active with my old club team.  I’ve meant to thank him, but it seems a difficult conversation to have in such a short encounter.  I wouldn’t be thanking him for being easy on me.  I would thank him for being tough, for making me work hard everyday, and for holding me accountable.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, swimming helped teach me to be a fighter and become a survivor.  

One of Garrett’s first swim meets – 2014

Being diagnosed with an aggressive cancer while pregnant was a shock.  But, I was so focused on getting our son delivered healthy.  It was my whole focus and I kept thinking… it’s only stage 3 … If I get through this treatment protocol … I will never have to deal with cancer again.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Stage 3 became stage 4 and my mental health took a nose dive.  I’d pull my boot straps up just in time for another tumor to put me back on treatment.  I felt more and more defeated.  I asked my medical team if I should realistically be done with treatment more than once.  At times, it seemed easier to just be done.  Fortunately, I had no shortage of loved ones, cheerleaders, health professionals and  miraculous timing for a phase 1 clinical trial.  Today, I wanted to take a moment to thank those individuals who helped shape me as I was growing up.  I’m proud of myself for not giving up, but it was the single most difficult thing I have ever had to endure.  I would not have been able to keep saying “yes” if it weren’t for individuals like David and many others influencing my life in my younger years.  David Lammel … I hope you know how much you did for your swimmers that never made the podium … thank you a million times over.

Until next time …



One Response

  1. I remember as a little girl (probably 9) the night that you were crowned homecoming Queen. I remember thinking you were a real princess and always looked up to you. Love your humble heart and strength, Becky! Thanks for sharing this. MAC swimming left such a lasting impact on so many of us and loved hearing how it’s help shape your journey. ❤️

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