Yesterday I told you about how I set a ridiculous goal of being one of the eight fastest swimmers in the state of Missouri, despite having very little competitive swimming experience.

I’ll pick up where I left off yesterday and finish the story, and then tell you the strategies I used to help me reach my goal (well, if I did reach it. Read on to find out).

The Regular Season

My season started with my most difficult race of the year. I would be racing the guy who took fifth place in the 100 breaststroke last year. Gone was all the confidence I displayed in the preseason team meeting. I was officially intimidated.

He kicked my butt. I didn’t even swim my best time.

While I probably could have taken a more positive attitude into that race, I think it was good that I had realistic expectations. My goal was to be great by the end of the year; I didn’t need to be great at the beginning.

In the second meet of the year, I won my first ever high school race. Then in the third meet I won again. In the fourth meet, I won my race and qualified for the State meet with a time of 1:06.91.

I won every other race in the regular season. My confidence grew with every win, but I wasn’t getting much faster. All my swims were around 1:06.

I finished the regular season feeling good about all the races I had won, but I was a bit concerned that my time wasn’t dropping to where I wanted it to be.

The Conference Championship

For big competitions like a conference or state championship, the meet is split into prelims and finals. The top eight swimmers from prelims compete for places 1-8 in the “Final Heat”, and the next eight in prelims race for places 9-16 in the “Consolation Heat”. If you want to finish in the top eight for the finals, you HAVE to make the top eight in prelims.

Our conference wasn’t very fast, so I easily advanced to the finals heat with the fastest time.

In the finals, I was racing for the conference championship, but I also wanted to improve my time. I knew I was only a week away from State, and a 1:06.00 wasn’t going to put me anywhere near my goal. If I didn’t drop time here, I could forget about placing in the top eight at State.

The buzzer sounded. I touched the wall 64.91 seconds later.

I won Conference and I dropped my time below 1:05!

The State Championship

I was feeling pretty good going into the state championship, but I had a lot of work to do. I had to beat at least 32 of the 40 best breaststrokers in the state to reach my goal. My 1:04.91 was about the 20th fastest seed time, so I knew I had to drop a lot of time.

There would be five heats of eight swimmers each. I was scheduled to swim in the fourth heats.

The first two heats had the 16 slowest seed times, and nobody swam under a 1:05. Things were looking good so far.

state championship swimming

photo credit: flickr.com/photos/evoo73/

In the third heat, two guys came in under 1:02.00 but the other six were around 1:05. After the first 24 swimmers, I was confident I could beat at least 22 of them.

Heat four was called to the blocks and I took my place.

One year earlier I was a crappy diver who only swam because our team was short on guys, and now I was getting ready to compete against the fastest swimmers in the state of Missouri. Almost every guy at that meet had been swimming for years. I had only been swimming for months.

The buzzer sounded and I dove into the biggest race of my life. One minute later I was closing in on the wall. My heart pumping, leg muscles burning and lungs bursting, I stretched and touched the wall at 1:03.38.

I was third place in my heat and fifth overall going into the final heat. It was the fastest swim of my life by over 1.5 seconds. Now there was nothing to do but wait.

If three or fewer guys in the last heat beat my time, I would be in the top eight. If four or more beat my time, I would be pushed to the consolation heat and miss my goal.

The buzzer sounded for the final heat and three guys took off well ahead of the rest of the group. It was clear that all three were going to beat my time and get into the finals. Of the five remaining swimmers, four of them were so far behind that they clearly weren’t going to beat my time.

The eighth guy was right on the same pace I swam. It was gonna be close.

I frantically looked back and forth at the clock and the swimmer.  I prayed the seconds on the clock would just go faster. At one point I was sure he would beat me. Then I was sure he was too slow. In reality, it was too close to call. He finally touched the wall and I looked up at the clock.

1:03.33

He beat me by five hundredths of a second.

My 1:03.38 was good for ninth place and a big fat helping of failure.

It was hard to come back the next day and swim in the consolation heat. I could have set a world record that day and I still would have been in ninth place; one place short of my goal.

I ended up finishing third in that race for an official 11th place finish at the State Championships.

Why My Lack of Experience was my Greatest Strength

While I didn’t reach my personal goal of 8th place, I still went from a crappy diver to the 11th fastest breaststroker in Missouri in less than a year. I could have let my lack of experience keep me from accomplishing so much, but instead I used that lack of experience as my main advantage over my competition.

There are two main reasons why I didn’t need years of swimming experience to become a state finalist.

  1. I Leveraged my own Unique Experiences and Skills
  2. I Knew I could get Better Quickly

Leveraging Your Unique Experiences and Skills

For most of my high school career, I wanted to be a great football player. While training for football, I spent four days a week lifting weights throughout high school. While that never actually translated into success on the football field, it definitely helped me in the pool. Most swimmers I knew didn’t do weight training, so I actually had a big advantage over them in that area.

I also had really powerful legs from diving, track, basketball and football. I could jump really high, which translated into a killer head start when I dove off the blocks. I even had one coach tell me that my start was as good as some Olympic swimmers he had seen.

What I lacked in the traditional swimming skills of form and endurance, I made up for with my own unique skills in strength and explosiveness off the blocks.

I Knew I Could Get Better Quickly

It’s a lot easier to get better at something when you suck than when you’re great. For example, I went from a 1:12 to a 1:03 in my first nine months of swimming because I had so much room for improvement. Then I swam in college for two years, and only dropped my time from a 1:03 to a 1:00.

Getting better is easy when you’re bad. Getting better is a lot harder when you’re already good.

With a positive attitude, hard work, and an open mind, you can go from “brand new” to “rock star” in a very short time, simply because there is so much room for improvement.

The key is to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe you’re going to get better at your new job then you won’t, and your lack of experience will make you fail instead of making you great.

Applying These Strategies to Getting a Job

I doubt many my readers are looking to become state medalists in swimming. I’d be willing to bet you are more interested in how to get a job without having the experience the employer wants.

I will apply these strategies to getting a job, but you have to wait until next week. So come back next week for a mock interview where I address the “you don’t have enough experience” question.