During my 24 hour travel fiasco to Sarasota, I was able to experience the results of maintaining a positive attitude and the power of a smile. I experienced the kindness of strangers, made new friends, and found happiness in a rough situation. I wanted to share my experience with all of you (and writing this was a great way to pass the time while stuck in the Atlanta airport).
I have been so excited about 2017. This year is going to be all about my career and being able to help as many people as possible swim faster. I was honored that Fitter and Faster wanted me to kick off the 2017 season of swim clinics by having me travel to Sarasota, FL for the first clinic of the year! My journey to Sarasota wasn’t easy, but it was a very memorable trip.
On Friday, January 6th, I started the day early at SwimLabs coaching a few amazing swimmers. We had some great breakthroughs in technique; specifically a few swimmers who finally mastered the butterfly kick timing. My brother picked me up to take me to the airport when I was done. I then heard the news of the shooting in the airport in Ft. Lauderdale. My heart broke for all of the people and families affected by such a tragedy. I knew that my travel day would be a little on edge because of it. I safely made it to my gate in Denver and boarded the plane. That flight went smoothly and I slept through most of it.
After landing in Atlanta, I had a tight connection and I had to switch terminals. I RAN through the airport and got to my gate just in time. I laugh now at how silly it was for me to run because after getting on the plane, we sat on the ground for the next 4 hours. There was freezing rain and very limited visibility. Our plane would get in line to get “de-iced” and then we would wait in line so long that we would run out of gas. We would have to go back to the gate then to refuel. I sat next to a college-aged boy from Palo Alto who was attending SMU. He and I chatted and laughed to keep light of the situation while continuously checking the weather and watching our situation become more and more grim. There was also an older woman sitting across the isle so we chatted with her also. She was very nervous about flying in the ice and nervous about being stuck in Atlanta. We were all nervous at that point about what the future held. I was continuously updating both David Arluck and my event manager Karen so that we could keep the participants informed and create a game plan to make sure that we were still able to make the events happen! By 10:30 PM, after a 6:30 PM departure time, they announced to the plane that the flight was canceled and that we would be in stuck in Atlanta until the morning since no other flights would be able to get out that night.
I got off them plane and was able to rebook my flight on the Delta app for the following morning. My parents quickly found me a hotel in downtown Atlanta. I caught taxi and was able to get to my hotel safely. I was surprised to find that the hotel was beautiful and right in the heart of downtown. The front desk offered to schedule me a taxi and give me a breakfast to-go in the morning! The woman at the front desk, Holly, was so kind and helpful. I felt so taken care of!
In the morning, Holly was still there. She handed me my breakfast, and informed me that the ice was too thick for taxis to drive and there weren’t any Ubers or Lyfts available AT ALL! She told me that the best option was to walk 3 blocks to the train station and take the train to the airport. Holly went even further and handed me her train card so that I could just get on the train! She told me to put on another coat because of the cold, so I put on my big red USA parka that I had brought with me and set off.
The walk to the train station was treacherous. The ice was thick along the sidewalk and I nearly fell several times. My roller suitcase offered a bit of extra stability as I penguin-walked in my red parka through downtown Atlanta. I’m sure I looked pretty silly.
I arrived in the train station and found a security officer to tell me how to get to the airport. The young man walked me over to exactly where I needed to go with a big warm smile. He was so polite. At the terminal, there was a teenage boy standing near me. He was shivering in a long sleeve t-shirt and thin pants. An older man with a large jacket walked over to him and said, “Son, are you cold? Do you want a jacket?” The boy responded , “Yes sir.” Then the man takes his coat off of his back and hands it to him while asking, “Do you want some gloves too?” The boy repeats, “Yes sir, thank you sir” and takes the gloves that the old man extends to him. I stood there and watched this exchange in awe of the kindness between these two strangers in the dark of the early morning at a train station in Atlanta.
I boarded the train and stood between all of the other travelers in the exact same situation as me. After a few stops, the train got stuck and we were informed that maintenance was coming to correct the issue. A man offered me his seat and we began to chat. He and his brother were from Bath near London in England and on their way to Asheville, NC. They were also stuck, but they also weren’t able to get their luggage! I felt lucky that I had only been traveling from Denver instead of all the way from London and that I had clean clothes! The train began to roll again, but many people had already missed their flights.
We arrived at the airport and many people rushed off. Airport employees rushed to clock in on time and travelers rushed to get to their flights. I passed several news stations reporting on the travel fiasco and many many people sleeping in chairs after having to stay the night at the airport. I got to my gate and waited while my 9 AM departure became 10 AM, which became 11, then 12, 1, and 2. The icy conditions made it unsafe to fly and all of the flights are delayed if not canceled. Every time the departure time changed I called my event manager to figure out how we could still make the event happen and be a great experience for all of the participants. It is now 1:00 PM and I’m hoping that I will be able to leave soon. I have made friends with the people sitting around me. Some people are trying to get home, others are on business, and there are people who are trying to visit family. All I want to do is get to Sarasota so that I can do what I do best, my favorite thing in the world: help swimmers get faster with The Fitter and Faster Swim Tour.
This adventure has been a demonstration of something that I teach at my clinics: your attitude is a choice. I have chosen throughout this mess to be positive and kind to everyone that I have crossed paths with. Choosing to keep a smile on my face has connected me with some amazing and kind people. So many others have then helped me get me closer to my goal of reaching Sarasota. There are great and wonderful things that happen in difficult situations if you can keep your eyes open and a positive attitude.
Thank you to all of the Sarasota swimmers and families for being patient and understanding. You can’t control Mother Nature. I am doing everything I can to get there and I promise that the event will be worth the wait!
Chloe Sutton - Sharing my experience of 20 years of competitive swimming including 8 years on the National Team and 2 Olympic Games.