Swim, Bike, Run, Live, Love, Repeat
A Story of Swimming, Family, and Belonging
During one of the first meetings we had as newly elected class officers following our 20-year reunion up at West Point, new Class President Phil Sounia talked a bit about his goals for our class’s legacy. “Classes are remembered,” he said, “when they write their stories down. People can’t remember what a class has done if its members don’t tell what they did.
This project was my sister-in-law’s idea. For whatever reason, she--and a lot of other people, apparently--seems to really like the stories I tell about my past. The project still seems a little dubious to me, especially since a) I am not famous, b) I am not a combat veteran, and c) I am not a world-class athlete. These are the reasons that people, especially West Pointers, typically write memoirs. This particular memoir falls outside those norms, for better or worse. For what it's worth, I’m not looking to become famous, either. If anything, I am already a little too famous based on the readership of this blog.
And yet, here we are.
|Me and my kids back a few years ago.|
The process of putting this story together has been intensely rewarding. To me. Were I to simply shove the finished product into a drawer unread, I would still be happy that I went to the trouble of compiling the narrative for reasons that I hope will present themselves over time. My friend Elizabeth was invaluable in helping me get some much-needed perspective. She kept saying, “You have to trust your readers. Don’t draw conclusions and especially don’t tell readers what this all meant. The fun, for them, is in figuring it out.”
This has been a challenge because, there’s no easy way to say this, I don’t trust you all. Not even a little. Every story has two components, and only one of these falls within the writer’s control. I can put words to paper, and if I’ve done it correctly, then they’ll say what they were intended to say in the way that they were intended to say it. This is by no means a given. Beyond that, you have to read this thing, pay enough attention to understand and appreciate whatever nuance has managed to sneak past the hammer blows of the obvious, and then filter those hidden bits of meaning through the lens of your own education and experience.
It's a fraught process. I enjoy it because it’s challenging, but it also feels a bit like hitting a baseball. If you ever approach a 50% success rate, I think maybe you’re having world class success.
But Elizabeth’s advice was good for me. There were things in my own life, in my own past, that I’d never realized until I stopped and just told the story without trying to justify or rationalize the events as I remembered them.
This project would not have been necessary were my father still alive. I don’t think that’s a secret, nor do I think I’d have felt the need to try to write all this stuff down were I not at some level still grieving his death. If Dad was still with us, I wouldn’t need to tell many of these stories to my kids. Dad could tell his own stories first-hand. In fact, I always kind of wanted to write a full-length version of my father’s biography just because I think he too had a very interesting life, a life that will go largely unsung without some effort being made to remember who he was and what he did. To that end, I wrote an extended obituary for him back in 2014.
That was his story. This story is mine.
|Every West Pointer needs an "I love me" room. Mine is in my basement.|
In my mind, the primary audience for this project is my children and the untold future generations of my own family. I’ve been the family patriarch now for almost ten years. A big part of writing this has been in hopes that at least some part of our family’s considerable history will not be lost forever through simple negligence and untimely death. Beyond that, my West Point classmates have responded favorably to this thing, those who’ve read it at any rate. Presumably because they see themselves in this story, too. That’s all good. Finally, I imagine future Army athletic recruits reading this thing as they consider their options. This is my story, just in case you’re wondering what kind of person chooses West Point. I am by no means a complete sample of the Academy as a whole, but I didn’t do too badly, either.
If you can do better, then prove it. I’ll be the first to cheer you on.