Legendary Swimmer with a Great Mental Attitude

Posted: September 12, 2010 in 1-Sports Psychology, Swim

Shelley Taylor Smith is a swimming legend!

She swam the 90km from Sydney to Wollongong at an average of 88 strokes per minute. Those of you benefiting from training with a Wetronome will know that’s an amazingly high rate to hold for 12 hours!

Shelley is a 7 time World Champion and 5 time winner of the mighty 48km Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Known for her mental toughness and fearsome competitiveness, she’s an inspirational figure to many people around the world.

Here is an excerpt:

“On January 17, 1995, I hit the wall 8hrs into my solo swim from Sydney to Wollongong (I know what you’re thinking… what were you thinking Shelley?) Little did I know that I had 4hrs 30mins of swimming remaining!

The water had dropped from 21C to 12C. Imagine if you can swimming at the front of the shark proof cage with the ocean water dumping on top of my head every 5 seconds much like a bucket of cold water dumped on you in the shower. I had this humungus (Aussie for huge) throbbing headache. Sharks had been circling. My fingers and toes were bruised and fractured from being picked by the velocity of the waves hitting the front and back of the cage.

I wanted out… normal behaviour I thought. I was stamping my feet like a child spitting the dummy as I repeated to my coach “I want a hot chocolate” “I want a hot shower!” “I want… I want” “I want out!”

Then came the most honest of all statements… “I have nothing to prove!”

My coach ‘Grub’ turned to me noticing my lips had turned blue and my back was shades of purple from the wind exposure; put two fingers up and said “How many fingers?”

I flashed back to Lac St Jean in Roberval, Quebec, Canada at the 1992 Pan Pacs 25km event when Grub asked that same question and I cannot remember my answer as I passed out unconscious from hypothermia and Grub saved me.

My moment of truth had come… way out there at sea thinking… hmmm if I say three… I can get out of this quick smart! I took the longest time contemplating should I or shouldn’t I. I replied “two” and Grub told me abruptly “put your head down and get going NOW!” I said “no!” to which Grub replied “Give me 20mins.”

I put my head down and said to myself:
“If you don’t quit… you will make it!”
“If you don’t quit… you will make it!”
“If you don’t quit… you will make it!”

These 8 words are all I said over and over and over to myself in the 90km solo swim to Wollongong. 20 minutes turn to 40 minutes then 60 minutes and a pod of dolphins appeared out of no where which cheered me up. All of a sudden my stroke returned to normal and the water appeared to warm up.

Your attitude determines how well you will succeed when faced with a challenge. We did succeed that day when we made it to Wollongong Harbour in 12 hours 28 mins and 30 secs.”

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