Athletes compete in a swim event at the Dimond Park Aquatic Center on Sept. 16, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

Athletes compete in a swim event at the Dimond Park Aquatic Center on Sept. 16, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

My Turn: It’s OK to say an athlete failed at obtaining a goal

During the telecasts of the 2024 Olympic trials commentators stated that around 1,000 athletes will be swimming in the competition and all but 52 will fail to advance to the Olympics. Many of the athletes feel that the trials are more difficult to advance through than the Olympics themselves.

On Friday, June 21, the Juneau Empire ran a piece in their online edition stating that two exceptionally talented and hard-working Alaska swimmers failed to advance at trials. The Empire byline ruffled some feathers as negative press for the Alaska swimmers.

By its very definition failure is a word that provokes negative connotations of disappointment, frustration and resignation. It’s a feeling that most athletes know all too well when we (I was an athlete in the day) fall short of a goal, especially one we’ve spent weeks, months or even years striving to achieve.

In the athletic world, anything other than success is too often seen as failure. And nobody is immune. In athletics fail does not cast doubt on their effort or character. It just means a goal was not accomplished. Just imagine…the best athletes have failed more than most people have even attempted…it’s OK to say an athlete failed at obtaining a goal.

Failure in sports can manifest itself in various forms, such as losing a match, missing a critical shot or falling short of a personal goal. Even the very best of us have to suffer it. For example, seven-time Olympic gold medalist Caeleb Dressel failed to qualify for the World Aquatics Championships in Japan after more disappointing results at the U.S. National Championships in Indianapolis in 2023.

To state Dressel did not advance instead of failed to advance are the same statements, and neither casts dispersions on the swimmers effort and character. Words matter and neither statement is nothing more than the results of their swims in a meet. Not negative or positive.

Failure is a stepping stone, a teaching moment and an opportunity to develop further towards a desired success. By no means does this suddenly make those moments where we fail to achieve a goal any less painful. Nobody chooses to fail and nor should we. We’re driven by a desire to perform at our best.

From my days as an Empire editorial writer for the Empire Readers Forum, I concur with an email the current editor sent in response to my inquiry about sending this column that, in part, states “I don’t set out to write or publish ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ stories — but to simply report what happened. Obviously things like his winning a state title and qualifying for the Olympics trials are probably going to be interpreted by readers as positive, but from a newsroom perspective those are seen as significant stories deserving of coverage.” And not qualifying for or failing to qualify for Olympic games should not been seen as a negative statement. Just news.

During my four decades-plus affiliation with the CBJ aquatics facilities and Glacier Swim Club (GSC) the Juneau Empire has published very many articles that highlight the fantastic efforts of GSC swimmers, coaches and parents. A few recent stories include headlines such as “Foy ‘flies’ through 100 meters to qualify for Olympic Swim Trials” (April 1, 2024), “TMHS’ Foy, JDHS’ Fellman top state swimmers” (Nov 6, 2023) and “Records broken at weekend high school swim meet in Juneau” (Sept. 19, 2023).

As a coach and/or board member of at least eight different Juneau youth-sports groups I feel that GSC is by far the best of them. Kids learn a skill they can do for life. They do not have to be competitive unless they want to and develop great friendships, excel academically and many return a coaches and lifeguards. Those that do compete are unparalleled in accomplishments in contrast to other Juneau athletic teams and clubs.

There are at least three JDHS/TMHS swimmers receiving scholarships to D1 schools for classes of 2024. The JDHS class of 2008 had eight girls receive scholarship offers to D1 schools such as Stanford, Purdue, Washington State, Vermont, Northern Arizona and Arkansas Little Rock, to name a few. There are scores of JDHS grads that are High School Academic All American swimmers that requires a 3.75 GPA, as well as 20 National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA) All Americans. There are several NCAA D3 All Americans as well as two D1 NCAA All Americans. No other Juneau youth sport comes remotely close to those academic and athletic accomplishments.

A big reason for that is because of the coaches. GSC’s head coach could easily be coaching an NCAA D1 team. Not only does he excel and coaching GSC swimmers he started the Juneau School District Learn to Swim Program where all fourth graders are taught to swim. The emphasis is on safety because Juneau is a coastal community. Kids who could not swim at all are able to swim far enough to get back to safety if needed. He also has former GSC swimmers that were NISCA All Americans and swam for NCAA D1 and D2 programs where they learned much assisting him.

The athletes that accomplished all of that failed many times when it came to goals they set. Failure is a great teacher and element in life that we can’t run away from. So embrace it. And learn to make the best from a “negative”result. It’s only negative if you perceive it to be. It’s OK to say fail in athletics.

• Tom Rutecki is a Juneau resident and former hockey player of semi-modest ability who failed to make it to the National Hockey league.

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