On Becoming Me: Who Was I Without the Sport That Defined Me?

I usually blog about being a parent of athletes. I am qualified to do that simply because I raised three children who were intensely involved in sports as youngsters, teenagers, and college athletes. But part of my ability to parent them stems from my athletic background. I have been an athlete my entire life. And my recent return to the pool and competition has renewed a love of swimming that I have often had a contentious relationship with.


Last year, I embarked on a journey to publish my memoir aptly entitled On Becoming Me: Memoir of an 80's Teenager. I was a prolific writer in those times, and my diaries and journals were my vehicles for expressing myself. It was the one place I could say what I wanted without fear of repercussions. And I poured my heart out on those pages. I left them stained with tears. The first rose a boyfriend gave me was pressed between the pages. I chronicled my crushes, kisses, and relationships. I wrote of friendships and trying to find a sense of belonging. My relationship with my parents was volatile. They didn't understand me. And I know I was not alone during these times. We all had our struggles.


What makes my story different than many of my contemporaries of that time was my identity as an athlete. My whole existence was chlorine-based. I lived and breathed swimming. At a young age, I would sometimes even wear my suit to school so I could be ready for practice. Being blonde, my hair was always highlighted an off shade of green. I played swim meet in the bathtub for fun. My closest friends were swimmers. It was my world. And I was good at it.


But things don't always stay the course. I would go through a glass window in our front door in seventh grade. Over one hundred stitches were required to sew my left wrist back together. I spent nearly two months out of the water. Coming back was challenging from a couple of standpoints: I was not as fast as I used to be, and kids had started rumors about how I had gotten hurt. Not long after that, I would dislocate my shoulder on a start. I literally pulled it right out on the dive. It was not put back in place correctly, and it would be the start of several years of non-stop agony as I tried to swim through the pain.


I would make junior nationals my sophomore year as part of a relay. I had just missed the cut in my favorite event. It was the first time I ever cried after an event. I think I might have known deep inside that was the breaking point. The pain was overwhelming. I knew no college coach would want someone so broken, and I still had two years before college. So, I quit.


And that is where the journey to figuring out who I was began. I knew who I was as a swimmer. But who was I without the sport that defined me? Trying to start over at sixteen was brutal. I wrote it all down. My struggles were so real. But in the end, I found a way to be the person I was supposed to be away from the pool. My story is unique to me, but it resonates on many levels because it can be so many people's stories.


I made a brief comeback to swimming in college. Then used swimming as a way to stay fit over the years. Fell into triathlon when I was in my twenties. Had reconstructive shoulder surgery. Did Master's swimming in my thirties. I walked away for sixteen years to raise my children. But the water continually calls me. It always has. It really is part of my fiber. Would I have the same appreciation if I hadn't been plagued with injury? I don't know. I am, however, grateful for life's journey and the lessons I learned along the way.


Using my blog as a shameless way to promote my book? Maybe. Author's prerogative, I suppose. But I genuinely believe the story transcends time. It resonates with parents, athletes, and teenagers, among others. The most significant feedback I have gotten is how it is a book that makes you take pause and reflect. My words were powerful. They were raw and honest. Watch the trailer. I hope you'll feel compelled to read the story. Parts of yours may not be that different. And the opportunity to get inside the mind of a teenager does not happen often.


NOTE: I am "raffling" off ten free autographed copies of On Becoming Me: Memoir of an 80's Teenager to those who join my mailing list at https://www.kirstenpursell.com/subscribe. Subscribe by 5/15/2022.




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