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The Butterfly and the Snake
“Take your mark… set…”
The horn exploded into the fresh breeze like a gunshot as the swimmers dove into the pool, beginning the first heat of the freestyle. The starter, a dad from the other team, was changing the setting on the horn, so that every race began with a different noise. I was basking in the sun, eating pizza with my friend Matt. We knew we weren’t supposed to eat such bad food, especially at a swim meet, but being the fastest swimmer on the team does help keep you from feeling guilty.
As the meet slowly progressed, Matt and I helped cheer on our team. When I grabbed the last slice of pizza, however, a black garter snake peeked out over the box. Trying to stay tough, I walked away from the monster as fast as I could without screaming like a little
. I can handle spiders, the dark, and horror movies, but I melt into butter when I see even the tiniest snake. Looking over, I saw the 6 year-olds getting on the starting blocks. Knowing this was the last freestyle race, I went to talk to my coach about my race, the butterfly.
As the 6 year olds swam their 20 yard freestyle, I zoned out as my coach droned on and on with his usual do-everything-right-you’re-the-best-on-the-team-be-a-good-role-model spiel.
When the little kids finished, the starter called for butterfly, and I made my way to the starting blocks. All races started with the oldest and made their way down to the 6-and-unders. Since I was only 12, I had to wait until the 15, 14, and 13 year-olds finished. When the first guys started swimming, the anxiety I always have before a race came rushing back like a sneaker wave in the ocean. Although I knew I was going to win, I still was a little nervous about doing well. After all, it wouldn’t be very motivating to see the best swimmer on your team’s goggles fall off.
As the races started coming closer to my age bracket, I noticed my brother Elliot and a couple of his friends looking around in the bushes. I wondered what they were doing, but then I remembered my race and tried to stay focused.
Finally, the starter called for my race. I made my way up the blocks when I saw Elliot and his guys at the edge of the pool. They were all chanting my name, except I was sure Elliot had tossed something in the pool. I thought nobody had noticed (except me), but whatever they had put in the pool was moving.
Taking a deep breath, I waited for the starter to collect his horn. He had dropped it during the race before, which had involved a touch-out between his son and a kid on our team.
The starter was a little angry. His son had lost. As he picked a new sound, I double-checked my cap, suit, and goggles. Everything was ready. Before the starter began talking, I peeked in the pool to see what the boys had tossed in. What I saw made my heart skip to my mouth: they had put a snake in the pool.
“Take your mark… set…”
A gong sounded and I had no
choice. I leapt into the pool.
The first shock of the cold water knocked some sense into me. I was the best on the team. Ignore the snake. Swim as fast as you can.
But I couldn’t. There was a snake in the pool. A snake! I had to get out as fast as I could.
When I came up from my dive, I decided that would be my last breath. Of the race, of course. If I survived…
I swam my perfect butterfly with no thought about form. I pulled with enough force to rip down a door; I kicked with enough power to cause a tsunami.
All I could think about was that snake, and I swam so fast I thought I was flying.
In no time at all, I had reached the end and was out of pool before you could say something like: “Wow. That kid is so fast; I just want to give him all my money.”
After the race, I was so tired I thought I had died. I was so tired I didn't see or hear my team jumping around, screaming. I was so tired that I didn’t even realize I had cut 5 seconds off my best time.
I guess it's true that fear is a great motivator. Maybe Elliot could bring a bigger snake to the state championships. I wonder….