A New Definition

“You need to hit pace on this one, Caitlin,” my swim coach would yell at me from across the pool deck.

I have been swimming competitively since the age of seven, so when I hear the word “pace” I think of a certain speed that I have to maintain in the pool. I haven’t been in the pool in eight months now, but that word “pace” brings me back.

I can picture myself with my Cal cap on, one hand on the wall, watching the red numbers on the pace clock ticking down till zero. I can feel my breath deepen and my muscles tighten as I think about surging off the wall and feeling the water flow all around my body. I can almost feel the familiar, and oddly welcome, sensation of lactic acid surging through me because I am pushing my body to its limits in order to hit that pace. I can still hear my coach’s voice ringing in my ears as she calls out times, and that great satisfaction I felt when I hear “35” instead of “36” after my hands had touched the wall and my head popped up.

I realize I have tears streaming down my face thinking of this memory. I miss that sensation of finding my rhythm in the water. So what does “pace” mean if it doesn’t refer to me swimming at a certain speed? The short answer, I am not sure that I know. I don’t actually feel I know much of what many words mean, apart from the swimming definitions that I held onto for so long.

Just like the sets I did in the pool, my pace of life when I was swimming, was concrete, predictable, and automatic. On Monday, wake up, swim two hours, eat, sleep, wake up, eat, back to the pool for three hours, come home and eat, go to sleep for the night. Repeat on Tuesday.  

But now, instead of knowing the pace I am suppose to be holding, I am moving fast and slow and in all directions, to find where I am suppose to be going. I’ve moved slowly and enjoyed vacations at times. I have overbooked myself setting up coffee dates with friends or informational interviews with potential mentors or employees. I worked really hard and fast to get my applications in for business school and now am just sitting and waiting. I applied to an internship, thought I was accepted and made plans for it, and then slowed to a halt when that opportunity fell through. It’s like learning to drive all over again--I step on the gas too quickly and then find myself slamming on the breaks by accident.

I am actively searching for a new meaning of “pace” in my life. One thing I am realizing is that sometimes moving slowly is okay. I don’t have to have all of life’s answers or know exactly what job or opportunity will come next. I just have to be present in the pace of today. Today, I am grateful to sit at lunch with a friend for much longer than intended, just because I can. I am enjoying the idea of being with friends past my regimented bedtime (thanks Tim and Mel). I am embracing the idea of being in a place in life where I don’t have say, “I’m so busy” all the time.

I am working on slowing down to process my past and allow tears to come to my eyes when I think about my swimming career. Equally, I am allowing myself to pause when I am filled with excitement of the potential of what is to come.

-Caitlin Smith