It was getting close to the end of the varsity swim season. I still hadn't reached my goal of qualifying for Sectionals. I'd fallen short by only a few seconds. This time I was going to be successful.
I took my place in front of the starting block. The butterflies in my stomach fluttered nervously. I stared out at the placid pool. The lane lines had paled because of the constant exposure to the chlorine, and its potent smells filled the warm and heavy air. I searched the sea of faces for the familiar smile of my sister. She knew how determined I was.
The official instructed us to step up on the blocks. I felt the rough sandpaper under my feet. I adjusted my goggles one final time. As I positioned myself on the block, water from underneath my cap dripped into the pool sending ripples throughout the water. My teammates were shouting words of encouragement. The official recited a speech engrained in my head. "This is the 500-yard freestyle. Each swimmer will swim 20 lengths of the pool. A gun will be fired over the lead swimmer when she has two laps plus five yards remaining. Judges and timers ready ... Mr. Starter ... Swimmers, take your mark ..."
The sharp shrill of the whistle signaled that the race had begun. My legs provided a strong push propelling me through the water, so frigid it shocked my senses. As I rotated my head to breathe, I heard the muffled cheerings of the fans and my teammates. A variety of brilliant colors littered the stands. The lap counter displaying the number one appeared to be mocking me; only 19 more lengths to complete.
After several lengths, my energy began to weaken and my heart pounded rapidly. As I passed my coach, he indicated he wanted me to kick harder. I squeezed my eyes shut. He wasn't the one suffering this agony. I willed my legs to move faster, but there was a dull pain in my thigh. My lungs needed more air and an empty dry taste had filled my mouth.
The crowd's enthusiasm appeared to have died down. They were lost in their own conversations and who could blame them? Swimming isn't very exciting to watch. Even a swimmer has to struggle to retain focus. I was tired of making excuses for myself. The season was just about over and there weren't many chances left. I couldn't go through this physical and mental torture again. Regardless of what my legs were saying, I could endure a little more pain, despite the fact that I felt like I had no energy left.
Two orange rectangles were thrust in front of my face signaling that the end of the race was near. The crowd had abandoned their conversation to cheer. My hand shot through the water and hit the wall.
My first concern was the time on the stopwatch. Those numbers determined my success. Nervous about my time, I tried to convince myself that I had tried my best, and that was all that should matter.
Suddenly a piercing shriek echoed throughout the pool. My timer, one of my friends, started screeching and jumping up and down. I had done it! With less than two seconds to spare, I had qualified for Sectionals. Everyone crowded around and people's congratulations surrounded me. My coach shook my hand, put his arm around me and gave me a kiss.
I've had many great races, but none compared to that one. The feeling, even now three years later, is still vivid in my memory. Brittle green hair, itchy dry skin, tired, sore, aching muscles and blood-shot eyes have been compensated by moments like these throughout the past nine years of my life. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.