Sunday, August 14, 2016

Going the Distance: The Spirit of the Olympics and the Birth of a Competitor

When I was 10 years old, just two years after coming out of a full leg brace after contracting paralytic polio, and suffering nightly sexual abuse at the hands of my father, I met a camp counselor, Joe Stetz, who was on his way to becoming an Olympian. He chose the path of becoming a physician but he had the energy and drive of a competitor that he wanted to instill in me. This is a photo of him with his Olympic training relay swim team - He is on the far left:

At the end of the summer, Badger Day Camp held their annual Olympics. Badger Day Camp has been in existence since 1933 and continues the tradition of training world class swimmers.
"The Badger Swim program is led by world recognized swim coach John Collins Jr. For the past 30 years John Collins has created a world class swim program in Westchester, New York. During that time John has coached 5 world champions, multiple NCAA champions and Olympic atheletes, including Westchester’s Olympic gold medalist Rick Carey. Himself a former Badger swimmer, Indiana University All American butterflier and American Record holder in the 200 Butterfly. John is currently a member of the United States National Team coaching staff." When I attended Badger, his father who is now deceased was the Camp Director. My first camp experience as a survivor of paralytic polio was horrible and so my physiatrist Dr. Eugene Moskowitz urged my parents to find a swimming camp for me. I was blessed that I found my way to Badger Day Camp with a supportive and all inclusive environment even back in the 60's.

There were only two campers who were competing in the butterfly event in my age group. Joe told me that he wanted me to swim the butterfly in the Olympics. I told him he was crazy. I had just come out of a leg brace and was recovering from paralytic polio. He told me that I was guaranteed a medal, that my time did not matter and I would be showing the other campers a lesson in courage. I told him I was afraid of jumping off the starting block and had no idea how to do a turn. At 21 years old (although in my eyes as a 10 year old he was a god of sorts), he had a very wise and kind soul. He told me to not worry about a thing; that he would coach me one on one in everything I needed to successfully compete in the race. Thus a competitor was born! I came in dead last but I finished and proudly took my place on the medal stand.

I've carried that Olympic Spirit with me after being diagnosed with post polio syndrome now almost 10 years ago. I carried Joe with me in my heart during my training for and running the 2009 Boston Marathon and every time I take my place at the start of a race.

After my nephew's suicide in March of 2011, I strayed off my healing path. After 4/15/13, I got back into running and watching Billy Mills' video of his 10000M victory at the 1964 Olympics lit the fire within me to up my game and go for a PR at Bill Rodgers 5K for Prostate Cancer.
"The subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between reality and imagination."

I harnessed that Olympic Spirit and here is the result:

When I was only 10 years old, from the heart of an Olympian, Joe Stetz, the torch was lit within me and a competitor was born. That Olympic Flame still burns brightly within me.

When Tom and I were watching underwater shots of Michael Phelps doing the butterfly I said, "That's not exactly how my butterfly looks." We laughed and celebrated what the Olympic Spirit is all about.

To your health and wellness,

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