Sink or Swim

Hi. Did you know that I used to be a competitive swimmer when I was 8 and 9? It just gets better and better doesn’t it? It is true, I was a proud member of the Brainerd YMCA Dolphins in 2nd and 3rd grade. I wore the speedo and everything. I wish I had a picture to post with this because due to my athletic physique it often looked like I was walking around the pool naked. I don’t remember noticing this when I would be around the other kids in my speedo (that is to say I was no more self-conscious than usual, but I spent as little time possible between the water and either a towel or a shirt jiggling around the pool deck (no different from today).

Remember though, I was and continue to be surprisingly agile… especially in the water. It is one of my natural abilities, I am a good, check that, great swimmer. This is due to growing up swimming constantly in the St. Lawrence River in upstate NY, I would stay in the water for hours jumping off of our boat house and diving for rocks. I would even go up to Jacques Cartier Park on the river and help with swim lessons for kids 3 or 4 years older than me when I was 6.

Winter 1993. The sectionals were being held at the high school in Brainerd for the opportunity to get to the state meet that was held annually at the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers). I was competing in 3 events for the opportunity to make it to state, 50 meter freestyle, 100 meter freestyle and the 4 x 50 meter freestyle relay. Obviously freestyle was my preferred event, however I had made it to state my first year swimming in the 25 meter backstroke (there’s a fun fact for you). My favorite event or at least the one I was best at was the 100 meter freestyle.

I was racing in the final heat, which meant that it wasn’t a full pool, there were 4 lanes being used. I made my way to my starting block looking like a topless pregnant midget (sorry, not PC, I know). I had my swim cap and goggles on as I did my pre-race stretches (think truffle shuffle), that I am sure looked exactly like Michael Phelps before I stepped up on the starting platform (I really do wish there was video of this). I was nervous as the starter requested us to take our marks. Everyone around the pool stopped what they were doing leaving nothing but silence. The starter said, “Set”, as I bent over resting my gut on my legs and probably showing a lot of crack to the lane official behind me (who happened to be my dentist, but he had never seen that side of me).

I can still remember the feeling of the hot, heavy air and the overwhelming smell of chlorine as the sound went off that signaled us to begin the race.

I threw myself off the starting platform into a diving start and entered the water looking like some sort of chubby human/porpoise hybrid. As I surfaced and took my first breath I could see that I had gotten off to a good enough start as I started my stroke and pulled my self through the water.

I came out of my turn and was neck and neck as I started to kick as hard as I could. As I took my breaths to see where my competition was I could see that I was pulling away. I’m going to do it, I thought, I am going to state. The finish was just a few strokes away as I pulled harder to the finish and slammed my hand into the wall. I had done it! Or, so I thought…

As I pulled my head above water and looked at my lane official with a proud smile, I quickly noticed that he looked confused. Then he said, “What’s wrong?”

As he said that water splashed in the lanes next to me as the other swimmers made their turns… I had only swam 50 meters, I was only half way done.

Defeat, embarrassment, stress. This is what I was feeling as I pushed myself off the wall trying to catch up with the other swimmers and we all know what that means (or should at least). I began to cry underwater as I worked to finish the rest of the race. This wasn’t just a little cry, this was bawling. The kind of cry where you make weird noises that you didn’t really know you could make. I couldn’t see as my goggles were beginning to feel up with a mixture of pool water and tears.

I continued to swim as hard as I could to make up as much time as I could to make the race as least embarrassing as possible. I actually ended up making up enough time to come in 3rd place in the heat but it was not good enough to make state.

I cried for a long time following that race. I was inconsolable and obnoxious being far to dramatic over what has happened (doesn’t sound like me does it?). As luck would have it our relay team did make it to state and we did win.

Unfortunately for all of my fans, that would be the last time I put on the speedo and swim competitively. I had a good but short run. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I stuck with it because I did enjoy it so much… could have been competitive at higher levels? Did I miss my calling? I guess I will never know…

Eh, I didn’t have the body for it anyways.


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