Alas, a Great Hunt

March 5, 2008
By Hailey Budnick, Missouri City, TX

There comes a day when all of your work pays off. When the alarm clocks set to four a.m., the aching quads, and the muscle-relaxing ice baths all become worth while. For some this day never comes, and their hard work seems to have been a waste. For the others, an experience comes along that summons a fiery passion within.

Competitive swimming is like a game of cat and mouse, where the mouse is the time you long for, the winning time, and the cats are the swimmers chasing that time. It was a beautiful night for chasing mice, our entire team thought so. We all gathered in a foreign swimming natatorium in Corpus Christi, Texas. It was our last meet of our travel trip. In fact, it was the last meet of the season, and my last chance to shine. I was swimming one event and one event only, the 500 yard freestyle. Twenty glorious laps of pain, agony, and lately, defeat. I wanted a change to change all of that, and my chance was coming up next race.

I look at the cats lined up alongside the pool. Shivers roll up and down my spine while butterflies try to escape my belly. I hear a voice over the intercom announcing my event. I’ve waited since warm ups, two hours ago, for this moment. I hear the loud, diffused voice of the starter exclaim, “To the blocks”. Obediently, my feline competitors nervously step to a block that is perfectly elevated above the water. I stand, head practically to my toes, waiting. Waiting for the flag to be drawn, for the buzzer to soound. Waiting, to see my mouse. I hang there, vulnerable, thinking of the times I’ve gotten, and the time I want. I want to drop four seconds. Four whole seconds away from my goal time. Four seconds to make every sprint my coach has ever tortured me with, worth it. Four seconds to love this sport again, to respect this sport again.

In the midst of all of my thinking, I spot something. I see the flag drawn, I hear the buzzer sound. My mouse has shown its face. My first lap I pace myself, for my ultimate goal is far too distant in the race to see. As I catch up to my goal, I speed up in excitement. I look side to side at my competitors. They have their fangs quivering and their claws out. They want what I want, they want my mouse. Just like a ferocious pounce after an idled pace, I begin to pick up speed. I can faintly hear my coach screaming at my sudden burst of energy. My struggle with the water ends almost as abruptly as it came. Water is no longer my enemy, but my accomplice. It lifted my pain and exhaustion away and fed my determination like fuel to a fire. My sprints got faster and faster, this mouse was mine, and only mine. I see its tail in front of me, and my paws reach farther and farther with every stroke. At last, I clench its tail between my claws. I glance at my time on the score board.

I did not catch the mouse I worked so hard for, the four second mouse. But instead I caught the much larger, eighteen second mouse. I was crazed with glee as I hopped out of the water and danced merrily. My coach could hardly keep from piddling, and my friends were screaming louder than ever. I glanced at my competitors as the climbed out of the water slowly, drenched to the scalp. Many of them crawled to the edge to lick their battle wounds, the wounds of defeat.

This accomplishment will surely feed me for many moons, which is a good thing given that this was my last mouse hunt of the season. This meet was all that I dreamt for, and so much more. For so many times I had tried and failed, I had grown to detest the game itself. I had worked so hard, for so long. It had all paid off. This earned swimming the credit, respect, and love it deserved back. It earned me the credit and respect back. Everybody agreed as I finally said, “Alas, a great mouse hunt!”

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