January 4, 2012
The moment before your fingers touch the wall, in that split second that makes the difference between first place and fourth, is the second that I live for. Wet fingers slip through the water, trying to reach the edge that will bring glory, or defeat. The water tries to hold me back, but it can’t stop my fingers that slice through the water imagining that moment when I can smack the timer pad and glance up at the solitary number “1” by my lane number on the score board. It is in that one second that legends are born, and is what separates the swimmers from the mermaids.

And then it’s over, and the girl from the lane over is just finishing, your heart races as your eyes glance up at the score board against your will. First place. You smile in spite of yourself. You’ve done it again, and you are reminded again why you joined swim in the first place.

Swim team is the one sport I really look forward to each year. The practices start bright and early in the humid air of August, and continue all the way down to the crisp air of November, all with the goal of reaching glory in the state swim meet. The girls complain, moan and groan about the sets Coach set us up for on this day. But once we jump in the water, pulling each other in, and begin our never-ending circle in the cool, silky water, no one complains.

A freshman comes up to me in the water between sets. “You ready for the meet against Tremper tomorrow?”

I nod, water flying off my swim cap. “We have to beat them.” If we did, our team would achieve second in our Division.

We chat some more until Coach coerces us into four 100’s, and off we swim again.

The next day, the pool deck is full of girls in their black team suits setting up chairs and munching on the dinner that they have to eat at school. The warm pool area is bustling with girls, coaches, and teachers trying to set up the score pads, dive chairs, and scoring table all at the same time. The other team arrives, looking just as nervous as we feel.

Before anyone knows it, the national anthem is being sung by a nervous freshman, her voice trickling through the humidity and pushing the first swimmers into the water. The first event has come and gone. And then the second one is done. And then the third one.

I watch my name get closer and closer on the line up. The 100 Breaststroke is approaching.

The divers finish, and I’m shocked to see that it’s already been an hour. My dinner that had been packed up tightly in the back of my bag is gone, eaten in a nervous rush. I haven’t been in the water for about an hour, and suddenly the coach tells me to jump into the deep end to warm up. I place the rubbery swim cap adorned with a snarling saber and my last name, and lower myself feet first into the warm, silky water. Taking a deep breath, I duck my head underwater and push off the side.

The breaststroke is a simple enough stroke to understand but hard to get the timing just right. The swimmer must move her hands in a circle motion above her chest, while balancing her pulls with her arms and her frog kick in the back. Breathing is paced as well, and once you get all three steps down (Pull, kick, breathe, rinse and repeat) she can go pretty fast. I don’t know what makes me special, but I can swim breaststroke faster than most on the JV team.

I reach the other end of the deep end, making a slight splash as I grip the wall with both hands and turn around, keeping in a tight streamline.

The ref announces the start of the 100 Varsity Backstroke. I’m up next.

Waiting by the edge of the diving board, I hoarsely cheer for the varsity Saber who just won the backstroke. Then it is my turn. The girl who just won gave me a high-five and whispered good luck. I smile back, and then turn toward lane 4. My lane.

“Swimmers, take your mark.”

I grab the end of the starting block, left foot forward, right foot backward, leaning back, and ready for the beep that will signal to jump.


I fling myself forward, remembering to arc my back and keep my legs straight. I enter the water with everyone else and begin frantically pulling myself along in the water.

Many things rush through my mind as I swim, but when I am out of the water and in dry clothes, they don’t come to mind. All I can say is that I am nervously focused, not paying attention to the other girls pulling themselves along as well.

It’s on the second lap that I see another Franklin girl and I are neck-and-neck.

We grab the wall with two hands as per the rules, flip over, and push off, almost in sync. We’re two torpedoes in the water, streaming toward our target.

I calm myself, and continue to sprint toward the finish. The final 12 meters are the slowest and most dragged out. Each pull, each touch of the water is accentuated by the fact that I am almost to the finish, but not without a price. I can feel that every stroke I take is being matched by her, the girl that is catching up, when you pull ahead, she catches up again.

Past the flags means less than 5 meters to go. I can’t tell who is going to win. Luckily, my strokes are timed so I have one perfect pull, and touch the wall without any slowing down. I rip off my soaking goggles and shoot a glance at the scoreboard, as the other girl is doing.

I have won by .02 seconds.

I smile, and give the other girl a high-five over the lane line. The Sabers took first and second, but somehow this victory by a hair feels even better than a landslide victory would feel. The water slaps my palms, congratulating me as well. I never want to leave the cool refuge of the pool. The parents are clapping in slow motion, and my smile is bigger than ever as the last girl reaches the wall.

Then the varsity swimmers step up, and I must leave the water once again. “I’ll be back,” I whisper.

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