Commencement season is upon us – caps and gowns, degrees and diplomas, speeches about knowledge and the future. While I do not remember one iota of the wisdom imparted in the speeches at either my high school or college commencement, I do often turn to a principle I gleaned and assimilated from someone with whom I never conversed.
Her name is Tina Bischoff. She was a year ahead of me in high school and in the ’75-’76 academic year we were both in Miss Nijssen’s Spanish III class. For a part of the year I sat behind Tina. I remember her composed demeanor, her cropped, silvery blond hair, her shoulders.
Tina was a swimmer. The whole school was abuzz with her stated goal of swimming the English Channel after she graduated that summer of ’76.
Sometimes, sitting there, I would wonder what it felt like to decide upon and plan something so huge. Over time I realized that a person really has to know their capabilities. They really have to know how far they can push themselves, how far they are willing to push themselves.
They have to know that when they get to a moment of doubt, exhaustion, or crisis, a moment that could mean defeat, they can dive deep inside themselves and find that extra bit of will, courage, determination. Scrape it from the walls of their heart if need be to keep going.
Yes, they plan and they prepare but will and determination are beyond that.
Tina Bischoff swam the English Channel in nine hours, three minutes that summer. I was thrilled for her. I still am, and I still use that standard she quietly helped me understand.
[For the record, Tina went on to win the overall women’s title in the ULTRAMAN Triathlon in 1989. The event is a 3-day triathlon held after Thanksgiving, totaling 320 miles, that circumnavigates the Big Island of Hawaii. Tina’s record stood until 2010, 21 years.]
Barbara Butler McCoy, c. 2015
[[Photo: Barbara Butler McCoy, St. Simon’s Island, 2011]]