Ever since that day I joined swim team at age-12, I wanted to go to the Olympics. I wanted to stand on that highest of podiums and have someone place that gold medal around my neck. In my era, I watched Tracy Caulkins win slews of medals - if she could do it, I could too, I thought.
In middle and high school, the typical teenage lifestyle eluded me. I spent too much time in the water to have time for what for everyone else was "normal." While my girlfriends enjoyed dinner and a movie with their beaus, I traveled to swim meets all over the state. And while they slept in on Saturday mornings, I got up early to dash off to my preliminary races - seven a.m. warm-up, meet starts at eight, races go on for three or four or five hours after that - because I had to swim them fast enough that I could qualify for finals that night. That night while my friends went to parties, circulated with friends and sometime experimented with mind-altering substances, I dove back in the pool for finals, to see if I could place at the top in my best races. After rinse and repeat the next day, I'd be behind on schoolwork I couldn't finish sprawled out on a towel between events over the weekend and spend the beginning of the week trying to play catch-up. All-the-while, rising at 4:30 a.m. for a workout before school and then going back to the pool for two more hours after school.
I studied in hotel rooms, in buses, in cars, on pool decks, grassy lawns - wherever I could get my homework done so I could spend more time in the pool. During cold Ohio winters, I'd often be too rushed to dry my hair after practice before school so my hair would freeze as I walked to the car and I'd have little icicles draped around my head. I'd start the car, crank up the heat to thaw my hair and reach for a Pop-Tart and a banana as I pulled out of the parking lot.
Despite all my hard work, I never qualified for the Olympics. I improved my times every year, qualified for state championships in the 100 breaststroke all four years in high school and qualified for the Region VI championships my junior and senior year. I missed qualifying for the Junior Olympics my senior year by less than a tenth of a second. And I swam that almost-made-it time nine times, falling short every time. I was disappointed. I didn't reach my goal. I fell short of what I wanted.
I can become an Olympian or any other person I want to be through my writing. My characters can achieve what I've never achieved, travel to places I'd like to go, dare to do what I've thought about doing, but haven't quite mustered up the courage to follow through with. When I created Jeff Dickson in The Open Water Swimmer, I felt a connection to this man like I've never felt with any other character I've created before. As an elite open water marathon swimmer, he's so driven to achieve his goals he shuns a military career to train and travel all over the world to races. It's about sacrifice, it's about wanting a dream and there's a little glamor thrown in the mix, too, because he travels to oceans all over the world to race and almost everyone would love to do that! Jeff is a true competitor who puts all his heart and his guts into every single race. He wants to win and he invests every ounce of sweat necessary to get there. He's the swimmer I always wanted to be.