You’re walking to the other end of the pool, so close, yet so far away. The marshaling table, manned by two lackadaisical guys only there for the hours, leaves you with a thin slip of paper that allots your doom. Butterflies mix with half-digested granola bar as you in your Crocs and headphones hobble to the blocks.
Leaving the warmth and safety of inspirational Eminem you strip down and stash your track jacket and pants in a corner. Amid the white-shirted officials and white-skinned swimmers from Whitby you shake up your muscles until the ref blows the whistle loud. You wipe the insides of your goggles quickly, and strap them on under your team’s cap. Right foot first, then left, you hear cheering on the shaky, sharp starting block. Imagining you’re a shark, a torpedo slicing through the water, a Michael Phelps. On your mark, beep! A flash, a splash, a few underwater dolphin kicks, surface, and we’re off.
1, 2, 3, breathe, 1, 2, 3, breathe. One goggle breathing, high elbows, everything your coach told you before the race just fades. You close your eyes, feel your body move, every single little movement of your limbs, and just spin everything as fast as you possibly can. Before you know it the wall comes up, flip, and it’s the final length. You take a deep breath, lower your head, and sprint all out–white water kicking. You’re in the center lane, there’s pressure, all the parents are watching you, that nice looking girl on the other team’s watching you, and bam, you jam your fingers onto the pressure-sensitive pad and raise your head breathlessly.
The red scoreboard has a bunch of meaningless numbers, and you feel a little dizzy from lack of oxygen. You remember your lane number, 4, and scan for it. Beside it, 2nd place. The fists slam into the water and feeling small and disappointed, you slowly climb out, water dripping off your hair and suit. The arms are all drained, you hardly have enough energy for anything, your next race is coming up. There’s another morning practice tomorrow, where there’s bound to be yelling from Coach and endless laps. But you like the laps.
You towel off, put your clothes back on, drink some water, and put your headphones back on.