Take the Plunge – Just do it!Shawn Slevin
“Elite swimmer Matthew Austin Josa talks to us about how young athletes can return to the pool successfully after a Covid hiatus. Matt started his company, Fearless Athlete, to combat the mental health epidemic in youth athletics. According to the CDC 2021, 1 in 3 teenagers suffer from depression.
Fearless Athlete provides faith based youth performance coaching. Inspiring athletes to break through mental/physical performance barriers.”
Take the Plunge – Just do it!
Athletes! Is it your time to approach the 8 lane, 25y or 50m glorified hot tub? I hope so. It’s always a great
time to jump back into the water regardless of how long you’ve been out; albeit 1 week to 37 years. I
recently had a few conversations with my great friend, fellow Cal Alumni, and former ’92 Olympic Gold
Medalist Joel Thomas, and we talked at length about returning to the water. Joel and I met just before the
2021 Olympic Trials and we hit it off immediately. We reminisced in shared coach, (late and great) Nort
Nort was a fantastic role model and example of passion in action. As he coached up until his last days
during his 90’s. It goes to show, no matter your age, passion is passion. And passion is far better than any
‘strong” cup of coffee you’ll ever drink.
However, during my conversation with Joel, I found out he had only just returned to the water. He had
taken the time after his gold medal to refocus his abilities on a professional career in finance. A short 30
years, a few 90 hour work weeks, and whole heck of a lot of success later, Joel was left seeking a return
to his first love…swimming. It’s never too late to return to the water.
From my own experience, the water has a redeeming quality to it. It never ceases to amazing me how at
home I feel floating in my favorite beverage of choice. The dichotomy between an individual’s relationship
to the water and between themselves is important to understand. Not everyday needs to feel the same
and that’s the beauty of it.
A relationship with the water can teach you much about life. But for me, I believe the valuable takeaway’s
lie a fundamental understanding of the constancy of the water. The water remains constant and
unchanging as we change daily. Thus we can rely on it for its consistency. This consistency acts as a
backboard for us to test ourselves and this testing can result in humility and or confidence. Both are good,
no, both are great!
The water provides so much more than great exercise, it provides the ability to understand where you are
in relation to yourself. It helps us calculate the distance between where we are and where we’d like to be.
Upon returning to the water, a few things should be taken into consideration. Firstly, understand that there
is no “win” or “lose” when it comes to returning to swimming. This rule applies to both swimming as sport
and as a recreation. The idea of winning and losing is the incorrect premise. The point of any sport or
activity is first and foremost, fun. We are given the innate ability as humans to enjoy play, and this should
persist up to your last days on earth as it did with Nort.
A second rule of thumb, swimming is SO much more than something you “do,” it is a fundamental form of
being. Being in the water is one of the great privileges we are allowed to experience on this earth. It
presents a new perspective, one from lightened impact and total immersion. The water accepts everyone,
it’s not picky.
Third and finally, be a student…always. The water is a great tool and measurement for physical fitness,
mental toughness, and personal improvement. I’ve often been known to refer to sport as a microcosm of
the human experience. It teach us to fail and teaches us to triumph. All in a way that is fun and
lighthearted. Sport is a chance to improve, so long as we learn from every experience we are given.
Failure is a choice, if you’re always learning then you’re always succeeding.
To those looking to take the plunge for the first time or 23,001 time, remind yourself of a few things. Have
fun, put your learning cap on (pun intended), and focus on being present in the moment. With certainty, I
can say Joel is grateful to be back in the water and he’s happy to have reincorporated it into his normal
routing. To those who’ve read this far… Dive in and have fun, life is meant to be lived. So go live and
experience the freedom the water provides!
Matthew Austin Josa