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Water splashes onto my face. My muscles are burning. The glare of the sun is in my eye and I crash into the other side of the pool. I jammed my finger into the wall and quickly stood up. Once again, I miscalculated my distance to the wall and hurt myself. Backstroke was probably my worst stroke, so I never swam it in the meets. I used to be one of the best at backstroke, but I focused more on my other strokes and began to fall behind. Now that summer was right around the corner, I needed to practice my stroke in order to help my summer swim team win.
At my pool, I’m one of the top swimmers on the team. That would actually mean something if we weren't in the second to last division. This year’s team was considerably smaller than last year, and none of them have much swimming experience beyond summer swim team. Before, we could win with sheer numbers, by just putting as many people as possible into as many events as possible. We barely managed to stay in our current division last year, coming in third overall. If we couldn't pull it off this year, that meant we would move down into the worst division.
What’s worse, our coaches seem to change every year. In three years, we have had five different coaches and many of our best swimmers have either graduated or no longer want to swim. Our entire team had been cut in half, and it was very likely that we would move down. That year’s head coach was very inexperienced and our assistant coach, while more competent, had little say in how to prepare for meets. So it was left up to my friends, Frank, Mike, Tyler, and I, to keep our team afloat.
“Sam, hate to break it to you but we are not going to be able to get anywhere this year. We’ve lost so many people and Grace is our coach now? Just because she’s the daughter of the owner of this team doesn’t mean she knows what she’s doing. I don’t even remember her swimming at one of the meets!” said Mike.
“Yeah seriously, we should have gone to that other swim team; we might actually get moved down to the worst division this year,” Frank said, pessimistic as usual.
But for all their complaining, they still stayed, and they still swam and participated. We were a haphazard team. Many of our swimmers could not swim all the strokes and it became increasingly apparent that we were doomed.
So then meet number one came along, and somehow we won. Somehow, we managed to pull ahead by two points and win the meet. With half the team that we had last year, we managed to not only win that meet, but all of our meets. Don’t ask how, don’t ask why, but we were able to do more with less.
If we somehow were able to win the division finals, not only would we not move down, we may even manage to move up a division or two and bring the team back to its original spot in the sixth division. But a leap from fifteenth to sixth is no small task. So far one whole week, we trained and trained. Only our top swimmers would be swimming, so that eliminated our disadvantage of not having enough swimmers. There was hope, and that was all we needed to win.
My friends and I were all selected to swim in the division finals. Frank and Mike were expected to sweep both freestyle and backstroke. Tyler would help sweep breaststroke. Then Frank and I would win butterfly. The only event where there was a chance we would lose was the individual medley, which is composed of all four strokes. Mike and I needed to get first and second because every point mattered.
That Saturday it rained, hard. What normally would have been a bright summer day was dulled by the dark clouds overhead. To make matters worse, it began to rain. Not hard enough to allow an official cancellation of the meet, but just enough to make the water freezing and everyone miserable. To make things worse, since our pool was the biggest pool, we had to host the event which meant everyone had to get up an hour earlier than usual to set up everything. It was a struggle just to get into the pool and warm-up.
But it was the day. If we won, we would be able to move up an entire division with half a team. The day went by very quickly. The age group I was in managed to win all the events we were expected to win. Some of the other swimmers managed to place in the top three or four, but it was basically evenly divided among the other teams.
Halftime rolls around, and the announcer gets on the loudspeaker, “Alright everybody, what a great first half! And now it’s time to get a quick overview of the scores. In sixth, the Gators with 76 points, fifth, the Sharks with 94 points, fourth, the Marlins with 97 points, third place with 101 points, the Tigers, and second place, with 117 points, our home team, the Dolphins! And last but not least, in first we place we have the Turtles with 122 points!” Everybody is cheering for their respective teams. But Mike and I just stared at each other. We were only down by five. If we could get first and second place, that would be enough for us to pull ahead.
The pressure was on. Our assistant coach, Matt, knew how close this was going to be. “You two need to step it up this race. If you win this event, we’ll have just barely enough to win this. Remember your strokes and remember to focus on your turn, that’s how you’re going to win this race.”
The whistle blew. The ref held the microphone to his mouth. “Take your mark.” A small, piercing beep and we were off. As I was swimming, my will to win become stronger. I was a faster swimmer than Mike; he could only manage shorter distances and usually used up all his energy early on. Finishing the butterfly, I immediately switch to backstroke and pushed myself to the other side. As usual, I checked for the wall and began my turn. I was a little too far but managed to pull it off and begin my breaststroke. I peeked out to my left and right. The sound of my team cheering me on, screaming my name, “Sam, go Sam go! Come on, you’re almost there!” gave me a sudden spurt of energy and I sprinted to the wall and finished, about two seconds ahead of the guy to my left who finished in second, and three seconds ahead of Mike. In my head, I was so excited. We did it, we had actually won!
But things were wrong. The refs were mumbling to each other. Confused, I turned to see Frank and Tyler rushing to me. Out of breath, I couldn’t even get a word out. I was glad that was the case because what they told me would have made me scream the worst obscenities.
“Sam, I think you got disqualified,” Tyler told me.
“Dude when you went from backstroke to breaststroke, one of the refs raised his hand,” Frank said.
And that was all the time we had. The next event was coming up and we had to leave. Walking back to my chair, I was shocked. I got disqualified? For what? That would mean all my hard work would be for nothing. I would have essentially single-handedly thrown the meet.
Coach Matt came up to me and told me the news, “Sam, I’m sorry to say, but they’re saying that you turned onto your front right before the breaststroke turn. I tried to argue it but even our own refs saw it and we can’t turn it over.” As he said this, I listened, eyes wide. I just could not believe what I had done. It was such a basic mistake. If only I had pulled harder on my backstroke, I would have gotten to the wall faster, which probably would have prevented me from even being able to do something like that. Matt continued, “We might still be able to pull this off, but it would have been better if we got first and third instead of just second. Don’t worry yourself about it, you did your best and that’s all that matters.”
The final event was over. Everyone was packing up, getting ready to go back and celebrate for a job well done. Final scores were yet to be announced. I hoped that my blunder wouldn’t cost us the division finals.
Then they were announced.
Gators pulled into fourth place.
Sharks and Marlins fell to sixth and fifth respectively.
Tigers were still in third.
“And in second place, with 201 points, the Dolphins!”
“And in first place, with 214 points, the Turtles!”
First place in an event earns your team fifteen points. If only I had won, if only I had paid more attention. I was ready to beat myself up when my dad came up behind me.
Then he looked at me, and in his eyes, I saw pride. He was okay with what happened, with what I had done and failed to do. And then I realized it didn’t really matter. This was just a onetime thing. Swimming was a big part of my summer, but it wasn’t my entire summer. I couldn’t mull over something that had happened. I needed to accept it and just move on. Behind me, I heard someone call my name.
“Come on Sam! We’re not going to save you a seat if you’re going to be that slow,” said Mike.
Then I realized a few things. The meet no longer mattered. It was over and done with. My failure was just something I could improve on next time. And who knows, maybe next year, we might even have a full team.