How it feels to be the last player cut from the US Olympic water polo team

Water polo player Jordan Raney
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By Jordan Raney

For the athletes who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, it is an amazing accomplishment, especially given the tumultuous events that have occurred in our world over the last two years.

I know – because competing at these Olympics was also a dream of mine. Soon after I started playing water polo at age 13, I began progressing up the Olympic development pipeline. In 2017, the year after the U.S. won a second straight Olympic gold medal in women’s water polo, I got my first call-up to the national team.

For the last two years, I’ve been living in Long Beach, California, training with the U.S. team full-time with the goal of competing at the Tokyo Olympics. Initially, there were 19 of us – all competing for just 13 Olympic roster spots. By early June, we were down to 14.

But when the U.S. Olympic roster was announced, my name was not on it. I was the last player cut from the U.S. women’s water polo team.

There are other athletes like me. Athletes who put their heart and soul into the process, making countless sacrifices, only to fall short of achieving their Olympic dream.

When I received the news that I wouldn’t be competing in Tokyo, I was in complete and total shock.

It felt like the floor had dropped from under me. I had been so close, I could taste it.

But then, the dream was gone.

I was angry, sad, disappointed, embarrassed, depressed, and had a feeling of guilt. I was – and still am – devastated and heartbroken. It was like something died inside of me. It is a feeling most people don’t understand unless they have experienced it.

Friends, family, and acquaintances have no idea how it feels to have your Olympic dream snatched away. People say “I am sorry,” but only because they don’t know what else to say.

The worst is when someone assumes you weren’t good enough to make the team. The other day, someone asked me ‘Oh, is the team just really good?’ insinuating that I wasn’t talented enough to make the roster, leaving me feeling insignificant.

Three weeks have passed since I was given the news and I still feel the same emotions, but I am now looking at the bigger picture and focusing on watching my team from afar. Although I didn’t achieve my dream, they get to live out theirs. I know they can perform well and complete the mission we set out to do together.

Even though it will be difficult to witness my best friends do it without me, I still feel grateful, proud, happy, and in awe of those 13 women. They are a force to be reckoned with and the world – not just the water polo world – better be ready. They are capable of whatever they, as a unit, set their mind to. They have the capability to win a third straight Olympic title, and I suspect they will accomplish that goal.

Looking back on my five years on the national team, I would do it all over again if given the chance. Without hesitation.

Winning is an elusive goal. The sports pages are filled with stories of the very best athletes who never won the World Series, who never won the NBA finals, who never won the Super Bowl. Still, they competed, knowing fully that they might not take home the trophy. The difference might have been a last-second shot, a miraculous reception, or a missed call by a referee. Winning is often a matter of chance.

So, why even bother?

Because competing is the secret. And there is an important difference between winning and being successful.

Success is putting yourself on the line. Challenging yourself to be the best. Giving your best day in and day out. Making the best of your God-given talents.

Even though I didn’t accomplish my goal, I competed. I still learned a great deal about myself. I discovered how to be mentally tough, develop a growth mindset, express sympathetic joy, acquire an antifragile identity, and cultivate resilience, along with many other attributes that will stay with me throughout my life.

This experience will fuel my flame. Adversity and pain can become power, with the right mindset.

Now, new goals await me: To complete my Master’s degree, finish my online MBA, and possibly be in Paris for 2024.

My journey is far from done. On to the next challenge.

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