One of the hardest things to do after a disappointing performance is to hold a mirror up to yourself and not just see what you want to see. It’s difficult to simply observe all of your missteps, errors, and shortcomings without looking away and letting emotion distort your vision. I’ve learned over the years that the level of honesty you choose to use as a lens dictates how much you ultimately grow and learn from an experience. When I hold up the mirror to myself and look as honestly as I can, my results from Lucerne speak for themselves. When it mattered, I was simply not fast enough. There’s no skirting that truth and something that will sting for a long time.
As painful as the truth can be, this is what I signed up for and is the type of ownership and clarity I wanted out of this journey. I sought to use every faculty available to me to wring every last drop of speed out of this mind, body, and spirit. To achieve the highest quality state of myself possible in this sport by leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of the loftiest goal I could imagine. To actively seek out discomfort, knowing that when I found it, I had also found an opportunity for growth. To be fully accountable for my successes and failures and greet them as learning moments one and the same. No hiding, no excuses, no finger pointing--just a man in his boat hell bent on getting the most out of what’s been given.
The thing about my approach of looking under every stone, is that not everything you find is good. Sometimes you turn over a rock and you find a rattlesnake. Unfortunately, such was the case with my response to my pre-competition altitude camp. I had an abnormal response compared to my previous experiences and ended up fighting my body throughout my time overseas. I tried to stay patient and optimistic that my body would bounce back, but it just never did. I watched helplessly as the moment I had been training for passed me by like a passing train and was then hit with the sobering truth that I can’t get that moment back from the grave.The challenge I face now seems to be compartmentalizing how I feel about the journey and the fresh wound of my recent performance. Right now the pain distorts and makes me myopic. It focuses my gaze on the fact that I did not achieve my ultimate goal of racing at the Olympics and blurs the bigger picture of what I’ve achieved along the way.
The seed of my dream was planted in 1998 as a 10 year old on the banks of the Thames River, as I watched Jamie Koven win the Diamond Challenge Sculls. From then on, I had a clear image of what I wanted to be when I grew up and what I wanted to achieve. Although I may not have gone exactly where I intended to go, I am proud to never have lost sight of 10 year old John’s dream. If I was able to help inspire even just one person, the way I was inspired by Jamie and others-- then I succeeded. Henley golds, World Championship medals, and Olympic medals are great, but at the heart of it all, the most valuable gift we can give one another is inspiration. Because when we are inspired, we strive to be better than we are, and as a result everything around us becomes better too.
I wonder now whether this journey was ever even about me? Maybe it was never about Jamie either? Maybe it was just about carrying the torch and contributing whatever fuel we had to the flame so it could survive to be passed on. A flame that sometimes rages on with ample fuel and at other times flickers and dwindles in the wind and rain. As I look back on the last decade of sustaining this fire, I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude to those who helped rekindle it when I couldn’t. It came in many different forms-- timely financial support, a fresh perspective on an old problem, a phone call just to check in, medical advice, a breakthrough technical concept, you name it--it all feeds the flame. To those people, you know who you are, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. We take the torch, carry it as far as we possibly can with the help of family, friends, teammates, coaches and mentors, and then pass it off.
Maybe there is one more crack at the Diamonds in me later this summer or maybe I’ve taken my last strokes. Either way, what I know is that I’ve taken the torch as far as I can as an athlete and I’m at peace with that. I don't know what is next for me or where I go from here, but I am extremely fortunate to have a wife that understands intimately what I'm feeling and is helping me navigate through this time of transition. I'd be in such a different headspace if it wasn't for her love and wisdom. I can't deny that I still periodically experience something akin to phantom limb pain when I reach for the phone to call Larry. I realize just how lucky I've been to have him just a phone call or email away over the years. But I think if I could talk to him, he would remind me that what’s past is prologue and it is now my responsibility to take what I’ve learned and apply it to whatever comes next. He would reiterate that although our roles may change and evolve, the journey is never over, there is good work to be done, and that nothing will work unless we do. No matter where the path leads me, I intend to commit myself to the work Larry dedicated his life to and making sure that flame rages on.
As my jaunting days come to an end, I take solace in knowing that somewhere out there, someone is choosing to push off the dock for the first time and paddle out into the strong current of their dreams that will carry them on a beautiful adventure. Thanks for being a part of this one.