As a child, swimming and painting were fun activities, which inadvertently strengthened my body and spirit.
At 18, I began seriously competing in the Paralympics and when I was 24, I moved from California to Taiwan to study Chinese arts. Swimming had massive benefits including a healthy body and mind, international travel and self-confidence from achieving success and representing my country. Uprooting my life to follow my passion for art forced me to expand of my worldview, gain a deeper understanding of Asia and made me a better professional artist.
In my early years competing, my nemesis was another American swimmer. He always won more medals than I did. I was frustrated because I felt my training and commitment were superior to his. We both trained hard but I did not smoke, drink alcohol, eat red meat and basically treated my body as my temple. He, on the other hand, smoked, drank, ate crap food and was overweight (which he assured me made him float better and thus swim faster). I was exasperated because though I was doing all the right things- I wasn’t winning the medals or recognition I felt I deserved.
When I went to Taiwan to study Chinese Arts, I religiously devoted myself to all my studies. The art history class was conducted at the National Palace Museum, a treasure trove of extraordinary Chinese art, and the Museum’s exacting curator was our professor. I worked diligently in that class but never achieved top marks. Then there was my buddy, also an aspiring artist, who often showed up for class drunk and seemed to do the bare minimum to pass. Yet he was able to make the professor laugh and he always pulled out better grades than I did. I was frustrated because though I did the hard work; I felt I was not recognized or rewarded for it.
Looking back, I see that the crux of my frustration was that I was looking for satisfaction in the wrong places. I’d forgotten my original intention, which was to live a big life fueled by sports and arts and instead I was striving for external recognition and wasn’t acknowledging the long-term internal character building that my training in the pool and classroom were facilitating. I’d forgotten to gain satisfaction from my own progress and talent.
But more importantly, sports and arts have always been my lifeline when times got tough. Whenever the wheels feel of the cart, I knew that diving into the pool or my paints would resuscitate me. These activities might not fix problems, but they helped me to rise above the turmoil long enough to paddle out of the whitewater. I still maintain my health through sports and I keep growing through art. I am grateful for finding out early on what activities strengthen my body and spirit while helping to make me a better person.