how our paths can diverge

empty forest
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Our paths can seem so straight, unwavering

And there is all the certainty of undiluted promises

Made by universes trusted with our lives.

But sometimes universes glitch and sometimes they collide,

And then what do we do? Curl up and cry?

Pretend it didn’t happen? Try with all our might

To find our way back? Scrabbling through dark

And murky waters with no signposts or breadcrumbs

To help us along the way. We will diverge though,

Like it not, and please take my advice

And never wish that you were on their sexy road,

That reeks of money and gifts and lavish things,

Because that road of luxury will always come

With a price tag that you never saw.

I saw the opening ceremony for the Paralympics today and it reminded me of a girl that I used to race when I was a competitive swimmer. Ultimately, it reminded me that I sometimes need to stop looking at other people’s road to success and focus on my own, because you never know when the path you didn’t take could end in disaster.

This girl that I was reminded of was much faster than me and although we both represented England, it was obvious that she was destined for greater things. I eventually quit swimming and she carried on and started to represent Team GB. As I drifted away from swimming I lost track of what she was doing and just assumed she had continued on her very successful path. I was, of course, very jealous.

However, about seven years later I was handed a swimming magazine and this girl was featured as she was going to the Beijing Paralympics. I was obviously shocked that something really bad must have happened to my old friend.

Reading on, I found out that while swimming in an able bodied international meet she was kicked in her neck. If anyone saw the Olympic Open Water races you will appreciate just how rough some of those races can be. She ended up paralyzed on one side of her body.

She went on to win gold at the Paralympics but I wonder what the cost was to her? She doesn’t ever talk about the accident because she is traumatized and she is in and out of hospital with poor health.

I look back to when we were kids and how I was jealous of her talent and wished I could be on her path to certain glory. I haven’t won any gold medals but I’m healthy and I think when it comes down to it, her path is as far away from what I’d want for myself now.

I’m so proud of everything she achieved, but I’m glad I’m where I am.

Much Love

Rachel xx

swimming through eddies

brown concrete building near body of water
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We stood on the promenade that ran along the bank of the river. There were about twenty of us all clad in our England swim kits. The race was going to take place that afternoon; a 5km slog up the river and back again.

“So we’re walking the course,” said the woman who had selected our team and organised everything about the trip, from the travel and accommodation through to which T-shirt we should be wearing if we were called up to the podium to collect a medal.

“And why would we want to walk the course?” she asked us, holding her hands together, palm to palm, as though she were praying.

Heather’s hand shot up and she gushed “so that we know about any obstacles and where the currents are.” She puffed out her chest, proud that she was the one to impress the chief.

“Well done, Heather,” said the chief. Her name was Wendy and she was small and old, but also formidable.

We traipsed down the promenade, all in our navy blue polo shirts with the England roses embroidered onto the front. When the package with all of the kit had come through the post, I had held the polo shirt in my hands and stared at it for longer than was necessary. This was the kit that I had given up my childhood for.

“Stop!” Wendy ordered, and we all ground to a halt. Just in front of us was a stone bridge, beautifully French and curved. “What do we notice here?” she asked.

I could sense Heather shift uncomfortably, knowing that she didn’t have an answer for this one.

“A bridge?” Tom ventured. He looked like Michael Phelps and I kind of fancied him. Someone in our midst sniggered and I hoped that they would do badly in the race.

“You’re not far off,” said Wendy. “It is a bridge. But what do you notice about the water flowing through it?”

“It’s going quickly?” Tom asked.

“Yes!” Wendy said. “And why do we want to concern ourselves with that?”

We all stood quietly.

“Think about the way you move through life,” she said.

We all continued to stay quiet. I thought about my own lumbering journey through life. I was only fifteen but I already knew that I was the kind of person that would always be unlucky – always running into road blocks.

“You find the easiest route,” Wendy answered for us. “You follow the quickest road and if somebody comes along and gives you a bit of a push, you take advantage of it and build on that speed. That’s how you got here, and that’s how you are going to live successful lives in the future.”

Everybody nodded knowingly. I nodded too. I didn’t know what she meant.

“Use the eddies that go through the bridge,” she clarified. “Make sure that you stick close to the walls as you go under the bridge. That’s where the current is at its fastest. It’s where the water acts like that friend that’s going to give you a little push. Take advantage of that.”

Everybody began to move on to the next feature that Wendy was going to point out but I stood rooted to the spot, staring at the fast running water that passed under the bridge. I touched the cold granite wall that ran along the edge of the river and waited to feel the light bulb moment that the other swimmers seemed to have just experienced.

I learnt to use currents to my advantage that day, and yet I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to live the life that Wendy thought I would. She probably expected us all to grow up to be doctors and lawyers. I moved on sadly, knowing that I was always bound to let Wendy down.