Though my experiences in the world of swimming and coaching I have come to realize that success in sport is a very, very big puzzle. This is not a puzzle that you sit down to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon and finish before dinner time. For most people, the pieces of this puzzle don’t come in a neatly packaged box with a picture of what the finished product will look like on the front. It takes time and patience to develop the picture, then find the pieces, then put them together. You need talent, you need dedication, a drive, an unflagging passion for what you do. You need the right equipment, the right plan, the right food, the right rest, the right temperament. That right there is a lot of puzzle pieces and I’m not even being specific! But there is one more piece, it’s one that I think sometimes gets overlooked…

Support

I have seen swimmers (some that I have coached and some that I have swum with) with incredible talent, great dedication, on a solid training program, but they haven’t quite had the support system they deserved and it’s held them back from breaking through, from achieving what I think they should have achieved. I have also seen swimmers with incredible support systems that don’t recognize it, or take it for granted… and the same thing happens, they don’t perform as well as they should!

I am learning more and more how important this piece of the puzzle is. Support can come in different ways and forms, sometimes it’s friendly and cushy, other times it’s tough love… I think that a balance in how you get your support is important. But the most important thing is that you, as an athlete know that no matter what you do,  you have a group of people that will be there for you, whether you win or lose, succeed or completely blow it. The result does not matter, those people will be there for you, to love you, give you a hug or a high 5, or order you a limo 🙂

When an athlete has a solid support system in place, and they are able to recognize it, and not take it for granted I think they have the ability open a whole new window of opportunity. You can have a lot more fun, you can enjoy your experiences so much more, and you get to share it all with others which makes it so much sweeter!

I have been very blessed with a family that has been incredibly supportive of my swimming over the years. From being fully involved in the Malawi Aquatic Union at the beginning of it all, to coming to watch swim meets, to paying large amounts of money so that I can live, eat and travel to swim meets. They have been there all the way through. The family support has not been limited to just Mom, Dad and Damon either. My Aunty Lib and Uncle Brian looked after me for many months when I first started training in Durban and all the rest of the extended family have always been there to watch me or send me encouragement or congratulations.

Damon and John Painting Up for a Swim Meet

The Whitworth swim team is known for being a family and I believe that the family like support system that we have on the team is a huge contributor to the success we have had over the last 10 years. Swimmers have come and gone through the program but the love and support of swimmers on the team has not changed. I think that as long as it stays that way we will continue to win.

The 2009-2010 Whitworth Swim Team

In the last year I have made good friends with a group of athletes that must understand the need for support, because they are incredible. The friends affectionately known as the “Byrd Family” have been showing up to my swim meets or watching them online for the last year and these people know how to make a noise. They are a great group of people that I feel honored to know and can’t wait to return the support when they start racing Triathlons in the summer.

The “Byrd Family’s” Support while at Nationals… Watch this video, it’s brilliant!

For the last 4 years I have been incredibly lucky to have the support of the most wonderful woman in the world. I am really not sure what I would do without the love and support that I get from Carla. She has been by my side through the the worst of times, looking after me when I had my surgeries and was about as useless as I could be. She has been patient, understanding and flexible when swimming took me from Durban to Namibia and then to the USA. She has looked after me when I was sick, loved me when training was tough, fed me when I was hungry, cheered for me when I’ve raced, spread news about my results. Like I said, I’m not sure what I would do without her!

Greatest Fan in the World!

There are many more people that have shown me love and support over the years and I am so thankful to all of you.

Spread the love, let your athletes know you are there for them regardless of what their results are. Get loud, make some noise, fill the stands, wear the T-shirt and watch as the ability we have to perform, sky rockets!

“Byrd Family” at Pirate Night in November
“Byrd Family” Cheering while I was at Nationals