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Better the devil you know

It was so weird. I don’t remember all the details. I don’t even remember the place exactly. I was sitting somewhere in an airport between Copenhagen and Brussels. It’s all a bit of a blur.

A stranger came out of nowhere and took a seat right in front of me. He seemed familiar. I had a vague feeling I had seen him before, but I couldn’t quite place him.

– I hear you’re a marathon swimmer with your own blog, he said, staring right at me.
– Yes, I replied hesitantly, not knowing exactly where he was going with this.

– But your blog doesn’t say much about your training…
– No, because I see no point in detailing every single workout. I don’t want it to be a technical diary or a collection of training programmes. For me, numbers are parasites. They become all too quickly an obsession. That’s why I only give overall descriptions of my physical training. It’s about my mental journey. It’s about humanizing the swimmer, not glorifying the distance or the speed. It’s about swimming.

The Power of Blogging– So, why waste your time on a blog when you could spend it swimming?
– Because blogging motivates me. It makes me reflect and it forces me to commit – once you’ve shared your goal with your followers, giving up is not an option unless you have a valid reason. And it makes it possible for my family and friends around the world to follow my journey. For some, it’s a source of information; for others, a source of inspiration.

– Inspiration is a big word, isn’t it?, he scoffed.
– Don’t give me that look! I’m not talking about inspiration like a boastful celebrity. I’m talking about being there for others, making a difference for them. One day on the harbour, Dennis and I met M.D., a girl we know from our fitness centre. She had followed my crossing between Denmark and Germany and the first thing she told us was: “if you can swim in Speedos for nine hours, I too must be able to swim 100 meters without my wetsuit!”. And so she did. I was deeply moved when she told me about it, as well as when my runner V.L. was hospitalised recently and told me my positivity had helped her focus on her recovery. And the same thing again with my brother-in-heart Nicolas when he did this insane triathlon in the Belgian Ardennes back in September. The way he fought and never gave up. It meant the world to me to be there to support him and give him some of my energy. People have been inspiring me all my life, now it’s time for me to return the favour. It’s an honour.

– But one small breeze doesn’t make a wind storm!, he remarked.
– Who said I wanted to make a wind storm? One small breeze or two are reasons enough for me to keep on writing. At the end of the day, that’s what my job as a trainer/coach is about: demystifying the impossible, inducing confidence and supporting others through their journey. If I can inspire but one stranger, friend or client in Formel76 by writing my blog, then it’s all worth it.

SwimDream76 by Thomas Voller– But blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation.
– I know, Dr. Sussmann, but I’ve never pretended to be a writer. I don’t have any aspiration to win the Pulitzer Price. My blog is nothing but a reflection of my journey. My pictures are the graffiti and my thoughts are the punctuation.

– Oh yes, your pictures! You’re quite fond of yourself, wouldn’t you say?
– Well, it depends if you bother to open my blog and read it or just judge me by the cover. I don’t strip naked to take a random selfie for my Instagram profile. My pictures are taken by my friend and passionate photographer, Thomas Voller. Together, we try to tell a story. The pictures are used to illustrate my posts. They fit into a specific context. SwimDream76 by Thomas VollerAnd yes, I’m the one posing in them, but it’s my story, right? And with the crazy ideas we get, I don’t think we could get a lot of volunteers who would wake up at 4:30 in the morning and pose butt-naked by 5 °C on the beach on a secondhand toilet bowl. Or creep down into a sewer hole in a deserted basement for that matter.

– But still, some of your pictures are quite showy and over-the-top!, he interjected.
– Don’t you go Hyacinth Bucket on me! I’m not correct and I will never be. Sometimes, it’s just liberating to take the stiffness out of things. I’m not a world champion, I don’t have the perfect body, I haven’t swum with the right people in the right places since the right age. I’m just me and I’m having fun. You should try it sometime!

– Yes, you’re having fun – until you fail!, he retorted.
– And then what? I’ve tried to fail and be pushed aside, but I’m not one to whine for weeks on end, feeling sorry for myself. Pity parties are not my thing. Just ask my team! They don’t cry for me, they keep kicking my ass. There’s a fine line between compassion and pity. I could get all the pity in the world and it still wouldn’t change a thing. In my world, pity is the enemy – it makes you stand still. Reactivity is the key. We all get injured, fall short of our goals or get defeated at some point. My blog helps me channel my energy and show how I deal with what life throws at me. It’s about sharing strategies. Some of us blog, others don’t. At the end of the day, we all die. Until then, we must react in order to survive.

– Very well. So, the question is: Are YOU ready to die?, he hissed fiercely as he jumped at my throat.

I managed to catch a short glimpse of his horns and fork as the pre-boarding announcement in the loudspeakers woke me up. I was bathed in sweat, but my throat was intact. It was so weird. I don’t remember all the details. I was sitting somewhere in an airport between Copenhagen and Brussels. It’s still a bit of a blur.


Better The Devil You Know by Thomas Voller

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