|espnW.com: Athlete's Life|
I vividly remember the day I first questioned my love for my sport.
In December 1993, after Barcelona, I dove into the pool for an afternoon practice and simply realized I didn't love it anymore. I was at a crossroads during a set. I could either push myself to the breaking point as I had done every single day previous -- or not.
I remember where I was in the pool, I remember what stroke I was swimming and I remember that the sun had yet to come up. For the first time ever, I couldn't think of why I should push harder. I actually remember thinking, "Why am I doing this?"
I understand Serena Williams when she says she can't imagine life without tennis. Swimming, to me, was equivalent to eating and sleeping. I did it every day, twice a day, no questions asked.
Until that morning. Later that day, I skipped practice and sat in the student union with one piece of paper and a pen. The paper had two columns: Pros and Cons.
I remember the pros being breaking a world record and winning another gold medal. But those pros were not reason enough to continue with the daily grind. I knew that a world record would eventually be broken and records were never the reason I swam. And the gold was exciting, but not enough to push me every day.
It took five minutes for me to determine life would go on without my sport. I retired after winning four medals, including two golds, at the 1992 Olympics.
My husband recently asked me, "What did you love about swimming?" I said, "I don't really know ... the whole thing, I guess."
Did I LOVE getting up at 4:15 a.m. in high school to get into a freezing-cold pool? NO. But I did it because I wanted to be the best.
In my sport, the love was in the goal. I loved working toward that goal. I loved the fact that I had found something at which I could be great.
But at Serena's stage of the game, I appreciate her honesty. She has been at the top, and maybe the fact that she has come clean and says that she doesn't love her sport takes some of the pressure off her shoulders. Any athlete will tell you that only works to her advantage. When it was time for me to step away from swimming, I exuberantly declared that life would be pretty awesome.
Clearly, Serena is not there yet. And when she is ready to hang up her racket, the fashion world better watch out.