Why Ignorance Is Bliss When You’re the Underdog

How underdogs chase progress, not perfection

Mary Chang Story Writer
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readAug 4, 2022
Photo by Elise Wilcox on Unsplash

“Are you just learning to swim?”

That’s what a stranger asked me while I was joyfully swimming in the Pacific Ocean.

I laughed and replied. “Oh — am I that bad?”

I told him I’d been practicing open water swimming regularly for the past two years and I was surprised by his comment. He told me he was a swim instructor and offered a few tips. He watched me swim a few strokes and provided feedback on my technique.

“Well — you’re not horrible.”

Although he was friendly and meant to be helpful, the comment was a killjoy, and it made me question my swimming technique.

“The most oblivious people are often the happiest.” — George Meyer

Before I trained for my first-ever triathlon race at age 51 this year, I was oblivious that I wasn’t as strong a swimmer as I thought I was. I later learned I was slower than average, but I didn’t expect to be the slowest swimmer in my age category and the second slowest swimmer out of 255 racers. I was out of breath every second lap, my technique lacked grace, and swimmers glided past me until the pool was quiet and nearly empty.

But I didn’t stop swimming.

I finished the Sprint triathlon in one hour, 31 minutes, and 31 seconds — with only 29 days of training.

If I’d known I’d be the slowest swimmer or if I postponed the race until the following year to allow for extra training instead of saying, “What the hell, I’ll give it a shot,” — I may have never attempted the race.

Relearning how to swim

I decided to take open water swim lessons to improve my random “Mary-Style breaststroke/front crawl/breathe/gasp/kick rapidly/tread water technique” and to prepare for my second triathlon, which would incorporate an ocean swim.

I signed up for a course called “Race Skills.” The course outlined that it would cover everything in the Beginner’s Course, and the only prerequisite was the ability to swim 100 meters in open water.



Mary Chang Story Writer
Human Parts

Finding shine through exercise, nature & people stories. Fueled by cartwheels, open water swimming & grit. Kid at heart, embracing & defying middle age.