Earlier in the day, the water had been warm, heated by the mid-summer sun. However, now that the event was almost over the sun had set leaving everything to look blue and cooler in the early evening air. I wasn’t happy about waiting this long to get started, but that was eclipsed by my excitement and eagerness to participate and (God willing) win!
I heard the shot, and hit the water quick and hard. The cold water, despite the shock, didn’t slow me down as I made it down the length of the pool, staying perfectly centered in my lane. The balm I had used to aid in sealing the goggles to my face had lost its effectiveness and I was now trying not to be distracted by the pool of water accumulating in the bottom of the goggle lenses. “Just ignore it”, I thought to myself.
Reaching the end of the pool I dove down to push off the wall toward the opposite direction. The breast stroke. This was my favorite stroke, and my best leg of the race. With every stroke, I would rise just enough out of the water to hear the cheering of parents, siblings, and coaches – but only for an instant. Then, I was submerged again. The rhythm of it was exciting and produced more and more adrenaline for the next legs of the race.
Kicking off the wall once again, I braced myself for the dreaded Butterfly stroke. I’m not sure why, but this always required more coordination that I have ever possessed. Kick like a mermaid, sweep your shoulders like a lumberjack … never mastered it, despite continued attempts throughout my life. From my position in the pool I could see that I was not in the lead, but I wasn’t too far behind. Knowing that my Butterfly stroke had to be the biggest joke in the race, I pushed on. The leaking goggles at this point, had fogged beyond usefulness and I was maneuvering from a mental map, with the slight peripheral I was able to glimpse through the fog.
Once again, the sound was cheers & applause, then muffled water, cheers & applause, muffled water. Thinking I had about 25% of the pool to go, I hammered down and tried to really go for it! I kicked my legs in mermaid fashion, which lifted me out of the water and as I was coming back down, shoulders in swan wing position when — BAM!
I hit the wall. Or, correction – my two front teeth had hit the concrete wall of the Olympic-sized pool. At first, no pain. Just shock at what just happened. It took 2 or 3 seconds for me to realize my miscalculation. I thought about crying, mainly from the humiliation of it, but I decided to swim on. Only one more lap to go. I kicked off the wall, holding back tears, hoping I wasn’t now the last person to be in the pool, praying no one saw my blunder. I swam on. I persevered.
Needless to say, my placing in the race wasn’t even good enough to remember. As I pulled myself from the pool, exhausted and hoping no one had seen me face the pool side, I grabbed a towel and sat on a chair in the cool night air, shivering against the cool outdoor furniture cushion. No one seemed to be looking at me. “Maybe no one noticed”, I hoped.
By the end of the second race following mine, the meet had come to a close and it was time to find my mother who had been working in the concession stand. Suddenly, my brother and younger sister joined me and seemed uncomfortable. Finally, my brother couldn’t stand ignoring the “white elephant” anymore – he laughs as he asks how my mouth feels. He laughs as he tells about the trail of blood that followed me through the last lap. He laughs as he asks to take a look at my grill to inspect any broken teeth.
Yep, I think that was my last swim meet.