I had been swimming competitively for about five years and was ready to quit, not because I had satisfied my desire to swim, but because I felt I was horrible at it. I was often the only African American at a swim competition, and our team could not afford anything close to the great uniforms the other teams were wearing. Worst of all though, and my number-one reason for wanting to quit, was that I kept receiving “Honorable Mentions” at each competition, which simply means, “Thank you for coming. You did not even rank first, second or third, but we don’t want you to go home with nothing, so here is something to hide later.” Any athlete knows that you don’t want to have a bookshelf or a photo album full of “Honorable Mentions.” They call that the “show-up ribbon”; you get one just because you showed up.
One hot summer day, the very day before a big swim meet, I decided to break the news to my grandma that I was quitting the swim team. On the one hand I thought it was a big deal because I was the only athlete in the family, but on the other hand, because no one ever came to see me compete, I didn’t think it would be a major issue. You have to know my grandma – she stood on tiptoe to five-feet-two-inches and weighed a maximum ninety-five pounds, but could run the entire operation of her house without ever leaving her sofa or raising her voice. As I sat next to my grandma, I assumed my usual position of laying my big head on her tiny little lap so that she could rub it.
When I told her of my desire to quit swimming, she abruptly pushed my head off of her lap, sat me straight up facing her and said, “Baby, remember these words: ‘A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.’ Your grandmother didn’t raise no losers or quitters. You go to that swim meet tomorrow, and you swim like you are a grandchild of mine, you hear?” I was too afraid to say anything but, “Yes, ma’am.”
The next day we arrived at the swim meet late, missing my group of swimmers in the fifteen/sixteen age group. My coach insisted I be allowed to swim with the next group, the next age older. I could have just as easily crawled out of the gym. I knew she was including me in the race so our long drive would not be wasted, and she had no expectations whatsoever that I would come in anything but eighth – and only that because there were not nine lanes.
As I mounted the board, I quickly noticed that these girls with their skintight caps, goggles and Speedo suits were here to do one thing – kick my chocolate butt! All of a sudden my grandma’s words rang in my head, Quitters never win and winners never quit, quitters never win and winners never quit….SPLASH!
Quitters never win and winners never quit, quitters never win and winners never quit.
I was swimming harder than I’d ever swum before. As I drew my right arm back, I noticed I was tied with one person. I assumed we were battling for eighth place and I refused to finish dead last, so I added more kick on the last two hundred yards.
Quitters never win and winners never quit, quitters never win and winners never quit. I hit the wall and looked to the left and to the right for the swimmers who had beat me, but no one was there. They must have gotten out of the water already.
I raised my head to see my coach screaming hysterically. My eyes followed her pointing finger and I couldn’t believe what I saw. The other swimmers had just reached the halfway point of the pool!
That day, at age fifteen, I broke the national seventeen/eighteen-year-old 400-freestyle record. I hung up my honorable mentions and replaced them with a huge trophy.
Back at Grandma’s, I laid my head on her lap and told her about our great race …and my new outlook on life.
Lisa Nichols (c) 2002 From Chicken Soup for the Soul http://www.chickensoup.com