The Pain Zone
John Naber won four swimming gold medals at the ’76 Olympic Games in Montreal, each in world-record time. He said something in an interview once that sticks with me to this day.
A reporter asked Naber, “What’s the difference between a good swimmer and a great swimmer?”
Here’s how Naber answered (I’m paraphrasing from memory):
The thing about competitive swimming is that the instant you hit the water, you enter the Pain Zone. Your heart is hammering, your lungs are on fire, your muscles are straining to their maximum. It’s hell.
The difference between a good swimmer and a great swimmer is that the great swimmer has the capacity to go a little bit deeper into the Pain Zone … and to stay there a little bit longer.
I’m just now finishing a novel—filling the blank pages on the climactic chapters—and I am deep into the Pain Zone. Resistance is kicking my ass. I think of John Naber every day.
Gloria Steinem once said
I don’t like to write. I like to have written.
It helps me a lot to remind myself first that there is a Pain Zone, and second, that it’s universal. Every one of us hits that wall. Every one feels our lungs burning, our heart about to explode out of our chest. Every one of us wants to quit. Every one wants to back off, just a little, so this damn struggle will stop hurting so much.
I keep thinking back to John Naber.
The difference between a good swimmer and a great swimmer is that the great swimmer finds a way to go a little bit deeper into the Pain Zone … and to stay there a little bit longer.