When I was twelve, I, along with many others, tuned the television to NBC and watched the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.
I was a swimmer, then, competing with a small local team registered under USA Swimming. Although it was fun, and good exercise, it meant little to me beyond being just another part of my simple life back then. I enjoyed competitions, and come to think of it, I still do love the hell out of beating somebody else. But it was never serious; I skipped many more meets than those I went to, and grueling practices would often see myself hanging out at the wall, claiming a faked injury.
That all changed with the Olympics, though. Watching Michael Phelps, Aaron Peirsol, Ryan Lochte and others take to the water at a speed many humans would have trouble matching on foot, I made a silent decision to myself: I would not rest, I would not stop, until some day, I would take their place; until that one day where I would proudly be able to stand on top of that podium, wave to the cheering crowd at the Opening Ceremony; feel that excitement, that initial jolt of energy, when the whistle would blow and I would sail through the air.
For the next year or so, I poured everything I’d got into swimming. I competed at every single regional meet. I went to the Junior Olympic trials. I was the lightning bolt in the water, and every time I swam, I pushed myself harder than ever before. I read swimming magazines; I duplicated Michael Phelps’ diet routine as close as I could (a bad idea in hindsight), and most of all, I had a dream to chase. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be something with all of my heart.
I wanted to be an Olympian.
Unfortunately, as history proves, I would not go on to be an Olympian. I would quit team swimming as I entered high school, and I’ve never seriously swum again since.
If 2004 Seung would see me right now, he would probably lash out at me for being a failure. For electing to take the easy way out, for being yet another mindless ‘cog in the machine’ I detested back then. Be someone spectacular, he would say. Be someone above the ordinary.
A part of me wants to go back to 2004 and re-do the whole thing again, maybe push a little harder, maybe re-prioritize some things. Maybe I would’ve been watching yesterday’s Opening Ceremony from a whole new vantage point. And a part of me will always wonder.
But the bigger part of me tells me that, even though I did miss out on being an Olympian, I didn’t miss out on so many more important things. And there’s really no point in lamenting what may have been, since no one knows for sure what would have happened anyway.
I’m happy. Even if I’m not an Olympian. Because, while I’m not exactly where I want to be right now, that doesn’t mean that I would be otherwise. We live with the choices we make, and I’m satisfied with the ones I’ve made. 2004 Seung might consider that blasphemy. 2014 Seung considers it just another way of being spectacular.
I’ll still be in Sochi, and in Rio two years from now. Just from the comfort of my home, cheering on the next Michael Phelps and being much too excited for my own good.
Seriously, who needs the Super Bowl?