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NEWS | June 24, 2015

“The Game” and what it taught me

By Michaela Judge Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

With the exception of family and close friends, most people don't know that I started swimming at age six and continued through most of my time in college.

Being part of a large military family, swimming was something my parents could easily get us involved in wherever we moved. It was a way to involve us in an instant community and for us to connect with other kids.

With the number of times we moved throughout the U.S. and overseas, I changed coaches and teams frequently. This experience helped me learn a lot about the concept of being a team, hard work and mental toughness.

Although I have a lot of swim practices and one-on-one talks with coaches that standout in my mind, one of the most vivid memories took place during my sophomore year in college.

The day after Christmas, every year, we were required to travel over winter break to meet up as a team for two weeks of intense training.

We stayed in a hotel close enough to a gym and pool so that we would literally wake up, swim in the morning, lift in the afternoon and swim in the evening and so on.

I remember being several days into training and feeling physically exhausted. During one of our drives to evening swim practice my coach said we'd be doing something a little different that evening and that we should prepare ourselves. I hoped it meant a break from the intensity.

On the pool deck, waiting for us when we arrived was an assistant coach. He presented what he termed "The Game," to the team.

It was simple in theory: each person on the team was given an event to swim and a goal time. For every second under the goal time you swam, you received a point. You repeated your event with a set rest period in between until you had reached 100 points.

For example, if I was given a goal time of 1:04 for an event and I swam it in 0:57, I received seven points.

That was it -- not much to it, really. I naively thought that this "Game" was going to be the easiest and shortest practice of my life. Finally, we were going to get a break, I thought.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

After the first 30 minutes, I felt like I was doing really well. In the beginning, I was able to shave off five to seven seconds of my goal each time I swam. I thought it was going to be a breeze. However, as time went on, the gap between my goal time and my actual time was drawing closer and closer together. My muscles were rapidly fatiguing and, mentally, I could feel myself wanting to give up.

It didn't help that people all around me were finishing. In fact, the majority of the team had been finished for a while. Four of us continued to work towards reaching 100 points.

Throughout the entire practice, the only constant was that my coach never left the side of the pool. He yelled, called out times and cheered for each of us throughout the entirety of "The Game."

By sunset,  I was completing events that didn't shave off time and counted for nothing. To say I was discouraged was an understatement. It felt as though my arms and legs were merely flailing, rather than swimming.

I wanted to give up but I kept going. Not because I wanted to but because there were two things preventing me from quitting.

The first was, being able to easily look to my right and left and see my teammates pushing through this difficult challenge right beside me. Secondly, I had a coach by my side, cheering me on until the very last point was achieved. Something about having people going through the "thick of it" with you is inspiring enough for you to want to make it.

When it was all said in done, it was my slowest and likely sloppiest swimming performance. It was messy, my form wasn't great and I can't say that I conquered "The Game" -- but I came through it on the other side.

I remember walking back to the van after practice. My coach put his arm around me and smiled -- he didn't have to say anything. He knew it was my worst performance to date, but it was also my best, because I didn't give up.

Looking back, I'm fairly certain "The Game" wasn't meant to teach us anything more than the importance of never giving up and being there for others in the challenging times. That was it. It was simple, after all.

I still remember that day vividly. Especially when I'm going through or watching others go through tough times. The bottom line is that we're going to face really hard "stuff" in our jobs, relationships, marriages and more. There have been plenty of times I've felt like I was ill-equipped for a challenge or issue and I wasn't sure how to handle it.

Life is just like that.

I have been able to get through difficult times because I've had people go through challenges with me, cheer me on when I was at my low-points and be there waiting when I crossed the finish line.

It may be a simple or trivial example, but I'm sure there is nothing more important than being there for others -- even in the messy parts. Sometimes that support is only thing that can get us through.