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One Less Breath
My alarm screamed in my ear. It was four o’clock in the afternoon; my hour nap was over. Though I expected to feel refreshed and ready to swim, I felt groggy. I crawled out of bed and packed up my swim bag. I was headed back to the University of Pittsburgh to swim a relay at finals.
At many big meets each day has two sessions: prelims and finals. Finals are an opportunity for the top swimmers from prelims to compete again. Even though I had not made finals in any of my individual races that day, Coach asked me to be a part of the girl’s 800 freestyle relay. I remember him telling me he thought that out of all the other people he considered putting in the relay, I deserved the opportunity the most, due to all of my hard work. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant because to me coming back to swim a relay wasn’t much of an award. I just assumed it was his little way of showing appreciation for my dedication so far this season. So I told him I would swim it, and he told me to be back at the pool at 5:30 P.M.
It was 4:15 P.M. and I ate a pre-meet snack of waffles. Yes, waffles. They tasted so delicious and sweet upon my tongue. I devoured them. By 4:30, I was headed back to the pool with Stacey, a sophomore friend of mine who was also only coming back for the relay. The other two legs of the relay were juniors, Maddie and Brittney, both of whom qualified for finals in individual events that night.
Stacey and I arrived. I entered the familiar pool area. I know the Pitt pool so well I could give you a tour with my eyes closed. The 25-yard by 50-meter main pool is in the front after you enter the facility. The locker rooms are along the right, you see the boys first, but if you walk for another thirty seconds, you reach the girls locker room. For this meet, the pool was divided into approximately twenty lanes so that each length is 25 yards. The first eight lanes, those closest to the stands, were used for competition. The remaining lanes were open for warm up and warm down throughout the meet.
Soon after arrival, I changed into my knee-length, racing suit. It was black and sleek. I felt invincible whenever I put it on. Even though it was a little worn out, my suit still cut my shoulders and left marks around my thighs. It was extremely tight. Then Stacey and I warmed up and watched a couple of races. It was almost 7:00 P.M. before our relay neared. We were all tired of waiting around and wanted to go home. There was still a full day of races tomorrow.
As our relay drew near, Coach told the four of us to meet him over towards the opposite end of the pool under the scoreboard. We all headed over there, complaining about how tired we were and how we just wanted to get this relay over with so we could go home. Coach came over, and the four of us took a seat on the ground.
“I’ve been thinking about this relay for over a month now,” he began, “I think the four of you can get the Junior National cut in this relay.
A Junior National cut!!??! I thought. That was crazy. Junior Nationals was a huge meet, it was much bigger and harder to qualify for than Sectionals, and I hadn’t even achieved my first Sectional cut yet. Was he serious?
“If you each split what I have predicted you will, you guys will be a full second under the Junior National cut. Maddie will go first and have to split 1:54, Brittney will go second and have to split 1:54 also, Elizabeth will go third and have to split 1:58, and Stacey will anchor and need to go 1:56. ” He continued.
1:58. It was a full two seconds faster than the fastest I had ever been in a 200 freestyle. Yet, I felt like I could do it because a relay start can usually take a full second off your time. This is since there is no pause between the beep and the swimmer entering the water, for in a relay start, one can leave as soon as the other person has touched. I was excited. The opportunity to swim at a meet as big as Junior Nationals would be so exhilarating. Out of the four of us, only Maddie had qualified for Junior Nationals before in an individual event.
We headed up to the blocks, discussing how exhilarating it would be to qualify. We got behind our lane and stretched out before the big race. Then the announcer called our heat and Maddie stepped up to the block.
“Take your mark, BEEP.” She was off.
Brittney, Stacey, and I cheered at the top of our lungs, screaming for her to go even faster. Coach was cheering. Our parents were cheering in the stands. However, the majority of the noise in the natatorium was not for us. We pretended it was. When Maddie touched and Brittney dove in I nervously glanced at the scoreboard. Madie had split a 1:53. We were way ahead. This could really happen.
As Brittney neared the last length, I stepped up to the block. I was nervous and excited. She touched the wall and I dove in. I kicked with all my strength and moved my arms as fast as I possibly could. By the fifth lap, I am extremely tired, but I keep going. With all my strength I pushed through the last lengths. I touched, and Stacey dove in. I learned later that I had gone 1:58.31. I crawled out of the pool and joined Maddie and Brittney in cheering for Stacey. We screamed so loud I am surprised I could talk the next morning. She finally finished. We looked at the scoreboard. Our time was 7:43.11. That was the moment I realized that Coach had never told us what the cut was. We all nervously turned toward him.
We had missed the Junior National 800 freestyle relay cut by twelve one-hundredths of a second.
If only I had taken one less breath, or kicked just a little bit harder, we could have made the cut. Though extremely disappointing, overall it was an exciting experience. I am sure that the next time the four of us swim the relay together, we will get the cut.