Lessons I Learnt From 2022

Out with the old and in with the new. 2022 was personally one of the most challenging years of my life. But don’t get me wrong, it was filled with laughter, adventures, love and accomplishments that I never thought would be possible. I’m grateful for this year is what I’d say. It’s taught me to reach my limits and then go beyond that. I’d say that if I had to look back, it taught me to forgive and to let things go. It taught me to love in ways I never thought would be possible and for that – I’m grateful. After the 2020 Olympics, I said I’d never write a blog on anything pre or post Olympics. But while writing the intro to this blog it seemed quite impossible to miss.

One could never describe the loneliness of sport. Most see the medals, accolades, records and travels. But the work, drive, motivation and consistency is far from what most would dare to imagine.  It exceeds the boundaries of determination and grit. But yet, we stay silent because this is the job after all..

Most weeks I’d cover approximately 80km of swimming, in between I’d also do 3-4 gym sessions a week with each being 1-1.5 hours long. With 5-6 hours of training on most days and very little time to do much else. Preparation towards Olympic goals start at anything from 12 years old (if not sooner.) For open water swimming, we athletes arrive to a 10km swim to race some of the best in the world with the possibility of loosing by an only fraction of a second. The margin for error is minute and as the sport grows it becomes even smaller. But this is sport. And only few see this side of it.

The secret behind it is: you have to love it. You can’t do this sort of thing without loving it.

I love that every race is different. I love that each race has a different setting and a different climate. In each race, the environment and course set-out varies.. so no race is ever the same. In each race you have to think, challenge and change your speeds throughout the 2 hour swim to outwit and tactically change your race strategy to gain advantage over your competitors. 

I love the challenge. And I love the sport.

In 2017, I was well into my training for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Life played out and had me coaching myself and training alone throughout the duration of the Olympic cycle. Most days I wanted to give up. I’m not one to isolate myself in training and need a team of people to race and swim against on a daily basis for motivation to swim faster.

One day I arrived home from training, placed my bags on the floor and was beyond ready to give up. However my mother encouraged me and said, “If you have a pool to train in, if you have a costume, a cap and a pair of goggles to swim in. Then you have more than what most people do.”
She went on to say that, “If you believe you can do it, then I believe you can do it too.” 

I held on and continued to do what I do. And that was me.. head in the water, swim cap and goggles on, grinding away at 80km’s of swimming a week in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. With most days having two swim sessions a day, in between my am and pm swims, I’d lay under the trees near the Stellenbosch pool and write. I’d either journal, make notes on my training or ponder on ideas of what I would like to do in the future. This went on for 3 years, until January 2020 arrived – a mere 6 months before the Games, when my mother passed away from cancer. You can never describe the loneliness of sport. But for me, it slowly started to creep in even more. 

Covid broke out two months after my mothers funeral. The isolation and lockdown periods made it increasingly harder to train for the Tokyo Games (and again.. the loneliness.) A lot of my training consisted of stationary swimming and breaking into the icy Berg River Dam in Franschhoek to get longer swims in. (Again, you’ve got to love sport to do this sort of thing. You just have to.)

The 2020 Olympics went on to be pushed out to 2021 due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Towards the end of 2020 I was exhausted and with only a few months until the Games it took the very last bit out of me to get there.

I thought I could do these things alone but I realized I could never. It took a lot of holding onto what I believed in – to be more than what I thought I could be possible. But the truth is, I was never really alone, I just felt lonely but was constantly filled with hope and purpose to face tomorrow and said that I would get up each day and fight to keep it alive.

By July 2021, I competed at my 2nd Olympics. Still today, I can’t say I did it alone and give God all the glory because He does these things for me.

I returned after the Games to start preparing for the English Channel. However with everything in me that wanted to get back to training, it was exhausting just to get out of bed in the morning. I started to underperform and soon realized that the people who I thought loved me, didn’t really love me for me and that’s when I felt my loneliness of all.

I promised that going forward I wasn’t going to fight my way through life. But I only really had to find a way to love through it. And that one day I’d see what would be on the other side.

My highlight for 2022 was definitely swimming across the English Channel and the lessons I took from this year were: 

  1. You don’t always have to follow the rules
  2. There’s no map to greatness
  3. Always be open to reinventing yourself
  4. We all drink from the same river 
  5. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, evidence of the things unseen”
  6. “The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next… so keep climbing”
  7. Forgiveness is a super power and one of the greatest gifts if you can learn to let things go
  8. Paths cross again and when they do – always be the first to open your water canister to share a drop of water 
  9. Cherish the present because you never know what tomorrow will bring
  10. Stories write themselves.

So with the above, happy new year everyone. Sending much love, blessings and laughter going into 2023. I hope it’s everything you’ve hoped for and much more 🕊️✨

Much LOVE, Michelle xxx