Arriving

 
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A few days after winning Gold in Sydney, I had to decide:

Waive my eligibility, turn professional and take the sponsorship money.

Or waive the sponsorship money, keep the scholarship and swim in college.

My roommate had won gold two nights before me. She went pro. Grueling choice for an 18 year old - swimming in a sea of shoulds.

And. Deep inside of me, underneath all the excitement swirling around the Olympic Village - I knew I had another dream. 

Born at the same time as my dream of becoming an Olympian. There was another podium I wanted to stand upon.

With teammates. 

I always thought it would be Stanford - because after all - it was Jenny Thompson who inspired me. And 1992 was a magical year - the Barcelona Olympic Games and the beginning of Stanford's dominance in the NCAA swimming arena.

In her I saw greatness. 

In me. An intense curiosity to know what it would be like up there. 

I signed the paper. Waiving my right to sponsorship money.

And even though - two months later - I found myself out of the water and in a battle for my life. An eating disorder. Depression. And a shoulder that needed surgery. 

Lost in the darkness. 

I don't regret that choice for one second.

Because, even in the darkness, there is light.

I spent my first two years at Michigan before transferring to the University of Georgia. Not exactly how I envisioned my collegiate career.

Those two years in Ann Arbor were brutal. And they were such a beautiful gift. 

Friendships forged and mentors found - especially in Greg Harden. 

My shoulder healed. And so did my mind + relationship to my body.

I learned how to unhinge my worthiness - from my failures AND my successes. 

Swimming was something I did - it wasn't who I was. 

And. I had unfinished business. 

I felt the pulls of my dream.

My shoulder was finally on the mend - but I was still out of the water. And lost.

During an in-season meet against the Georgia Bulldogs, Jack Bauerle - and his four words - changed the direction of my life. He simply asked, "Sammer! How are you?"

And he really meant it. 

Jack was my assigned coach for training camp and the Olympics. He always treated me with the utmost respect. There were many others - who also coached college teams - who tried to convince me to walk away from my deferred admission and scholarship at Michigan to go swim for them. Jack. He's a man of integrity. The kind of coach you'd want your daughters - and sons - to swim for.

The truth. I was healing AND I was struggling. I was on the mend physically, emotionally and spiritually - but knew deep down I needed a change.  

We get to choose our hard. 

Tuning in to my inner wisdom - that magic - those nudges and pulls - that was the hard I needed to choose.

So, I did.

Transferring was a leap of faith - for me and for the coaches at Georgia. I was 50 lbs heavier than I'd been in my life. I had been out of the water for over a year. And, my shoulder, though 'fixed,' hadn't been tested. 

And together we leaped.

 
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When I arrived in Athens, I linked arms with team that understood the power of synergy - and the magic that’s born when you come together to fight for something bigger than yourself.

I had three years of eligibility left.

Three years to chase down this dream. A team title. Three chances for thirty women to believe, align, connect and perform - to commit to showing up every day for something bigger than themselves.

My first year we finished second. To Auburn.

My second year we finished second. To Auburn.

And then came 2004 Olympic Trials.

Less than a month before Trials, I had a crippling pain in my side - making it hard to move, never mind start, turn or do anything with intensity. The pain: a six centimeter tumor on my ovary. I needed surgery. 

It was like 2000 all over again - first shoulder, now ovary. Except this time, I didn't have the training base to fall back on - I had just caught my stride after being out of the water, rehabbing my shoulder.

I chose not to have surgery. I chose to swim.

It was nothing like 2000. 

And after that meet, I wanted to quit. I was done. Depleted. Mentally and emotionally.

I had climbed out of the darkness already - I didn't want to do it again.

One more year of eligibility. My teammates voted me in as co-captain.

While we were still at Trials, I went to lunch with my coach and life mentor, Carol Capitani, and told her I didn't want to return for my final year.

With the exact blend of empathy, compassion and edge I needed to hear, she looked me straight in the eyes and said:

" You aren't quitting now. You don't get to choose whether or not you are a leader of this team. It's up to you to step into the role."

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is step into our own light. It forces us to get uncomfortable. It forces us to grow.

I returned for my final year.

That year was magic.

Our path wasn't linear. We had to work through struggle - just like every other team. 

And. We came together. 

Unified. Connected. Ready.

To work for something bigger than ourselves.

I shifted gears from freestyle to backstroke - because that's what we needed.  

To win - we all had to show up and do our job.

We won.

And we broke records. Taking home all five relays - making history.

That moment. Up on that podium. Pure magic.

Though the miles separate us now - we're connected for life. Part of a legacy that continues.

People often assume that winning a gold medal was my proudest athletic accomplishment. But this moment right here....

 
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Both are beautiful in their own right. Both an honor. A privilege. And a shitload of sacrifice and hard work.

And. There was something different about that moment on the NCAA podium that allowed me to feel deep, lasting joy.

Something powerfully different. 

When I stood atop the Olympic podium, I  thought that moment would complete me. I thought it would make me whole.

When I stood atop the NCAA podium, I was already whole.

I swam faster than ever before.  Healthier. And. Happier. 

My ring - just like my gold medal - represents the journey.

And. This time, the inner critic didn't make it up there with me. 

That, my friends, is arriving.

~

Update on The Compassion Project: I'm SO beyond blessed to have a January FILLED with work I love - facilitating three (!) High Performance Deep Dives with collegiate athletes - presenting at my first TEDx - facilitating my wellness group - and working with private clients. Literally living my dream!!

AND. I overestimated my ability to open the doors to The Compassion Project - an online learning community for women and men who are ready to step into their LIGHT. Content is READY. Just need to get the platform up and running!! {PS! If you know someone tech savvy who could help a sister out - send them my way!!}

FEBRUARY here we come!! It'll be worth the wait!! In the meantime, please head over to The I AM CHALLENGE to link arms with a tribe of pure love + authenticity. 

~

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Samantha Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, transformational speaker, high performance coach and mama of four.  She inspires and empowers others to cultivate the courage, resilience and perseverance needed to let go of perfection and other limiting beliefs so they can live their dream. Samantha candidly shares her battles with her inner critic, depression, perfection, PTSD and parenting as a working mother because she believes in the transformative power of story – and the strength that comes from knowing we are not alone. She is on a mission to pay forward all that she’s learned to help others find joy and live free.  

A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls.  

You can learn more about Samantha at www.samanthalivingstone.com.