I’ve only met a few famous people in my life. Probably the most famous of which was Bill Clinton when he was President, which only happened because I’d been on a date with someone who worked for NPR that had gotten me onto the White House grounds, where there I had gotten to greet Clinton once he had exited his helicopter. That being said, I had another “famous-sighting” recently when I was in Columbus, Ohio that got me thinking about where my life would have taken me if I hadn’t followed the addiction-path I did.
Before I say who that famous person was, it’s important to note that quite often in the rooms of 12 Step recovery, you’ll hear stories from people who once had the chance to become famous in something, many of which often seem to be sports-based. But, due to falling into their addiction, each had lost that path. For me, that was with swimming, which all came back front and center when I recently met Tokyo Olympics Gold-Medalist swimmer Hunter Armstrong at his job at the Chocolate Café in Columbus, on a fun day-trip to the area.
Armstrong, a junior at Ohio State University, had just returned from Tokyo, fresh off his biggest achievement in life thus far, getting a gold in the 400 Medley Relay. I spent a good 15 minutes talking with him about my former love of the sport. He had just begun his journey with it and let me know his goal was to qualify for at least the next two summer Olympics and possibly even a third. I can honestly say I felt a twinge of sadness after talking with him because I had once been on the same path as he, that is until I became more interested in hanging out with someone I was attracted to at the age of 17, who told me swimming was for losers. And it would be this individual who’d also introduce me to the power of alcohol not too long after I left the sport due to their comment, a sport I felt I was essentially born into.
Here’s a little history for you when it comes to my former love of swimming. My parents had me in the water swimming competitively starting at the age of 5. By the age of 8, I had already conquered my first big feat in the sport by swimming over 120 laps in a marathon-type of benefit! I was swimming miles and miles a day by the age of 12, and had a wall of medals, trophies, and ribbons to show for it. During the summers, I’d either be participating on some private swim team or was in a swim camp improving my strokes. In case you’re wondering, 50 or 100 Back or Freestyle were my two favorite strokes in the sport. By the time I reached the age of 17, I could swim 2 ½ lengths underwater with the lung capacity I had, was a varsity swimmer on my high school team, and had the tendency to win more than lose in the events I was in. Most likely, I would have been captain in my senior year and would had received scholarships to several colleges with the sport. But, what I did instead would be to leave the sport I loved because of addiction, a sport I really never have returned to ever since.
Hearing stories like this in the rooms of recovery is truly one of the saddest parts of becoming an addict. The things one gives up after becoming heavily engaged in an addiction is incredible. How many former athletes I’ve met who could have turned pro if they hadn’t discovered a love for things like alcohol and drugs is countless. Who knows where my path would have gone if I had remained on my swim team in my senior year of high school? Could I have eventually made the Olympics? I’ll never know of course. What I do know is that I’m thankful for people like Hunter who have dedicated their lives to a sport they’re good at and have a sincere passion to put it first in their lives rather than some toxic addiction.
So, while I may never know where my life would have gone if I had stayed in the water all those years ago and continued to work on a sport I was pretty dam good at, I’m blessed to have made it out alive from an addiction that not only took me away from what I was good at, but almost took me out from this life as well…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson