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Steam rises off the pool and the sun reflects off the surface of the water burning my eyes. It smells of chlorine and popcorn. People have been filing in filling up the stadium with salty treats and refreshments. I’m still not used to the fact that the crowd is here for me. They want to watch me make the Olympic team. My family sits in the stands waving American Flags and wearing embarrassing T-shirts with my face on it. Not my idea. They sit on the edge of their seats anxious for my race. I have to come in first or second in order to make the Olympic team. Third doesn’t cut it this time.
Goosebumps cover my body as they call my name, “Kate Stolarski. 16 years old. Swimming in lane 5, the 400 freestyle.” The announcer’s voice booms and the crowd goes wild. I walk out of the sliding doors waving my hands and half smiling. I can’t hide my nerves. I can’t let the pressure get to me. I am racing the best in the world. And I have to be better.
I step behind the block and remove my warm up jacket. Shaking my limbs to “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, I get my heartbeat up. This is my chance to prove myself. To prove to all haters that I can be special too.
By haters I mean Maddie Sparks. In middle school I was a nerd: Four eyes. Braces. Straight A’s and no life because of swimming. So of course, I was given the cold shoulder in school and people always talked about me. And Maddie Sparks was the worst.
As I step up to the blocks, preparing myself to swim the memories flash in my head. I remember walking down the salmon speckled hallways, textbook in hand, rushing through the crowd hoping I would make it to class without encountering Maddie Sparks. If I let my guard down I would be tripped or my glasses would be broken. The worst was when I was slushied. The blue ice stained my favorite dress freezing my body as I walked to the nurse. The crowd has disappeared now. The only thing in my way is Maddie Sparks.
And I hope she is watching me right now.
Boy am I ready to race.
“Take your mark…” here I go…. “BEEP.”
I dive off with more determination than ever. Immediately my legs are on fire. I have to push through it. Lap after lap. Flip after flip. And the only thing that keeps me going is Maddie Sparks.
My wrist bends backwards as I finish with momentum. I slam into the touch pad and look up the scoreboard frantically searching for my last name and the number next to it.
The moment of truth. Have I finally defeated Maddie Sparks?
The crowd screams and jump on their feet. A wave of “what ifs” rush through my head. What if I don’t make it? What if I do and then I have the pressure of the Olympics? I look over to see Rebecca Soni and Katie Hoff hugging each other. Both smiling. 2 people. Shoot.
Hoff 1. Soni 2. Stolarski 3.
I was out touched. I missed it. I would have rather come in dead last. But no. I had to come in third. Third gives me a glimpse of what its like to stand on the podium waving my hand and holding flowers. But third also gives everyone else a chance to rub in my face that I hadn’t made it and I could only stay in the spotlight for now.
And I only missed it by .05 of a second. That’s why it hurt the most.
The three of us had broke the world record. I swam the fastest I have ever swam. But they out touched me. I can’t even say I broke the world record because they beat me to it. By .05. One breath. One kick. One reach could have put me ahead. And I missed it.
I climb out of the pool in a tizzy. Tired from swimming. And clearly disgruntled due to the fact that I hadn’t made it. I rip off my cap as a reporter comes up to me, “Miss Stolarski, tell me what it feels like to come in third by .05?”
She says it with a sneer, a smirking face. Like third in the world isn’t good enough.
“I want people to know that I broke the world record too. I went fast too. Faster than anyone had before today.” I stare into the camera picturing my face on Maddie Sparks TV.
“Well, will you be back in four years?” The reporter says, noticing my attitude.
“Oh I’ll be back.” I said holding in my tears. “And I will be better than ever.”
“Yeah... To Maddie Sparks. I hope your watching when I say thank you. Thanks for making me stronger than you ever will be.”