That was the day when everything came together. I was jumping up and down in the stands, cheering at the top of my lungs, when the realization washed over me. That’s why she worked so hard. That’s why she went to every practice. That’s why she pushed herself even when no one else was. Anne Lewicki, my best friend since fourth grade, was swimming to qualify for the US National Swimming Championships. Ever since we were little and on summer swim team, she would be the one being hard on herself, setting goals, and going to double practices. Anne had always stood out as a passionate hard worker even from elementary school, and I had always been there to support her. The day when it became evident that Anne was going to go far with swimming, was the day of the Boulder Valley Summer Swim League Championships.
Inside the large building containing the pool Anne restlessly waited for her heat to be called, tapping her foot and twirling her hair. The heating area consisted of a few black benches lined with nervous but excited kids. The door adjacent to us hung open allowing the heavy, hot summer air to waft in. As the area became busier Anne anxiously chewed her lip. I could tell the buzz of cheers and waves from the pool was not helping her.
“Come on Anne, you’re going to do great,” I tried to build her confidence. She was seated as the third fastest female in the 100 backstroke. I could tell that she wasn’t listening as her head was turned to survey the competition. Our coaches passed by offering high-fives and silent encouragement to which Anne offered a weak smile. She was always polite and kind, no matter the situation. After some short small talk with our teammates, Anne’s heat number was called. A group congregated around the speaker and were sent to their respective lane assignments. Buzzer after buzzer could be heard as the events before Anne’s ticked down. I could see her legs shake as she climbed up to the blocks. She quickly tied up her long blonde hair, then covered it with her signature bright pink cap. She looked at me and I sent back a double thumbs up and wished her the best.
“Event fifty-eight, heat one, one-hundred meter backstroke” The starter began, “Backstrokers in the water”. Anne plunged into the cool, clear water. She came up, took a deep breath, and lifted her hands to the backstroke handles.
“Backstrokers place your feet.”
Anne shifted slightly.
“Take your mark.” She tucked her chin and tensed her muscles. The buzzer sounded and she threw herself backwards, arching over the water. I watched Anne kick underwater long past the flags. When she reached the surface she was near the girl in the lead. I cheered from behind the blocks as she came into her second turn. Anne had a strong stroke but would sometimes get caught up in the competition. She fought for the lead while the third turn neared. Anne was neck and neck with the girl who was seated as the fastest female backstroker in the league. The final wall was an arms length away and she propelled herself with all of her energy left into it. I looked up at the time board, Anne had just out touched the other girl by milliseconds while simultaneously breaking the team backstroke record.
“Anne, you did it!” I screamed. Her big brown eyes widened with disbelief as she realized the outcome. A smile crossed her face as she turned to congratulate the swimmers next to her. When she hopped out I smothered her in a bear hug, my excitement overflowing.
Ever since that day she kept getting better; breaking records and beating times. Just as I had known, even from back in fourth grade, Anne was made for something more.
The roar of the crowd brought me back to present time. Anne had just walked out onto the pool deck waving to the stands. The bright lights reflected off of her goggles as she moved to her lane. The fifty meter pool had calm, untouched waves. We made eye contact and I gave her a thumbs up and a big smile. Anne removed her parka to reveal a pink swimsuit. She had told me she was unable to wear her pink cap so she had to opt for a suit. Old habits seemed to be repeating themselves as I could see her shaking.
“And there they are ladies and gentlemen,” The Announcer boomed, “For the two-hundred meter backstroke.” Even from the bleachers I could see her lips quiver.
“Come on Anne, you’re going to do great,” I whisper knowing she would not be able to hear me. Anne placed her goggles over her eyes and I could tell that she was trying to get focused. I watch her competition walk out with far more confidence and I began biting my lip; I was nervous for her.
“Athletes to the blocks”. The announcer whistled three times to indicate that they should get on the blocks. Anticipation made my stomach churn. Anne was taking deep breaths trying to calm herself.
“Backstrokers in the water”.
“Take your mark,” An automated female voice said. I held my breath; everything she had worked towards could change right now. Anne held her position, head tucked and muscles engaged. The loud buzzer rang in my ear as she and the other competitors shot backwards over the water making a perfect arch. Synchronized underwater kicks set her out in the lead for the first fifty meters.
“What do you know? Rookie Anne Lewicki is in a narrow lead coming into the first turn,” The voice over the loudspeaker exclaimed. A smile crept along my face, but I knew it was too soon in the race to be excited. Anne executed a perfect turn, but the other swimmers were catching up to her.
“Go Anne Go!” I cheered then watched in dismay as she was overtaken.
“And just like that the Rookie has dropped to second.” The voice provided an obvious update. Anne was keeping up well with the competition. She was heated into one of the outside lanes, which are the slower ones. She was passed by more of the swimmers but I knew that she wasn’t done fighting. She held the same placement after the third and final turn.
“If you’re going to do it, you have to do it now.” I eyed the clock. Anne seemed to hear me as she began pushing herself with everything she had left. She overtook many competitors and slammed her hand into the wall to stop the time. Checking the time board I jumped up in excitement.
“Anne, you did it!” I shouted when her head came up, “You qualified!”