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Right foot up. Then the left. I steadied myself on the block. To my right I could see Haylee. To my left, Merritt. I was sandwiched by the first and second place league champions. In front of me was twenty five yards of crystal blue, luminous water. I stared down at my reflection in the water. “Swimmers, take your mark.” My reflection was emphasizing my wide shoulders and strong build. The buzzer sounded. After ten years of swimming, diving off the block was a reflex I had well developed. My hands were brought above my head into streamline; my flexed body sliced through the water as diamond cuts glass. When I surfaced, Haylee and Merritt were just a split second in front of me. Thinking of previous races, I knew that within the hundred yards of this race that they would win. I moved my arms simultaneously. Although i doubted that it wasn't good enough, I did what I knew. I did what I had spent hours on for days. My kick was strong. I remembered what coach had said, “Keep your hips up.” I could hear my teammates cheering me on; their voices were tuning in and out because of the way that i glided through the water. I two hand touched the wall and kicked off giving everything I had to accelerate more. At the seventy five yard mark, I thought of my time of one minute and twenty seconds. Then, I thought of Haylee’s of one minute and five seconds. Then of Merritt's; one minute and eight seconds. I cleared my head and fought on. I ignored my aching shoulders and gave it my all when I touched that wall after one hundred yards of determination.
My eyes focused on the time board. Lane four: One minute and fifteen seconds. I looked at my lane number again. Wait, was I really lane four? Did I really just go one minute and fifteen seconds. Turns out, I did. I had dropped five seconds in that one race. This grin just broke across my face. I shook hands with the other girls in my heat and pulled myself out of the water. My new time would make me the fastest butter-flier on the team. Coach Jackson was right there with a huge smile and congratulating me. In that moment, I wanted one thing. I wanted Coach Andrew’s approval. I guess I wanted it so bad because I strived for excellence and he was the most difficult to please. He was sitting on the bleachers with his straight face. When he saw me he smiled. My goal for that season was to place top six at leagues and he knew that.
“Andrew! Did you see my time?”
“Yeah, good job!” He smiled
“Do you think I’ll make finals at leagues?” I questioned him.
He shrugged. “Maybe.”
That blunt response was like a short and painful bee sting. I knew for a fact that Haylee and Merritt from Brighton and two other girls from Gateway were the only ones that could beat me. Top sixteen made finals. I knew for a fact that I had worked my butt off. It felt as if he didn't think I could do it. I walked away and pretended to shrug it off. I cheered on my teammates and swam my other events. The whole night, it felt as if something was eating at me. I was angry that the person I had tried to please most, didn't believe in me. I knew I should have been thrilled, I just took the top spot on my team for the 100 yard butterfly.
There were four more meets before leagues and sadly, each meet, my butterfly got slower and slower. My race just dragged on and my head was most certainly not in it. My time increased while my self confidence decreased. It wasn't so much that I wanted to please Andrew, it was that I thought that I had just gotten lucky that one time and no one on my team could even come close to my time so what was the big deal right? Wrong. I would later reflect that my attitude was not the attitude of a winner.
February 22, 2013 was my big day. It was leagues. It intimidated me how ten hours a week for four months was going to determine whether I made something of myself. It was even scarier that one minute and fifteen seconds was going to decide that.
Right foot up, then left. Because of my unsteady nerves, I shook my head to clear it. That was unnecessary though because I knew the water was going to clear it for me. I tried to push the thoughts of my slow times out of my head. I wasn’t going to let those thoughts shatter my confidence. But truthfully, I wasn’t confident. I doubted whether I could do this. The girl next to me was from Aurora Central. She grinned at me with her braces and said “Good Luck!” I wished her luck and put my goggles on. Staring at my reflection in the water gave me confidence because I knew that I was strong enough and I had faith in my body that it could carry me to league finals. Being 4 foot 11 inches made the other girls underestimate me. Right then in that moment, I knew that they were going to be sorry for looking down on me.
The buzzer sounded and I was off. Like a bullet shooting through the water, I swam one hundred yards of butterfly. My head was completely clear. The only thing I could see was my fingertips in front of me pulling me to glory. In no time, my hands slammed into the wall after 100 yards. I knew what I was going to see when I looked at the time board. I was right. 1:15. I had won my heat. I knew that the other girls who were faster than me were in a different heat but that certainly did not stop the grin spreading across my face.
I checked the results that were hanging outside. I found my name and next to it was the number 3. My heart skipped a beat. Actually, it skipped a few. I had done it. Due to my determination and hard work, II had made the top heat in league finals. My goal was reached. Places 4, 5, and 6 were filled by girls with times that were just tenths of seconds away from me. Places 1 and 2 were claimed by Haylee and Merritt. I strutted up to Andrew and told him my time. Then I added in the fact that I had made league finals. The first look that crossed his face was disbelief. Even though it was for a split second, I still caught that look. The second was happiness. He gave me a high five and I went to join my team.
I had done it and I had reached my goal. Me, a 4’11’ freshmen had placed third at prelim finals so I smiled to myself a lot that night. My determination paid off. However, I accepted the fact that with my training and young age that I was probably not going to beat Haylee and Merritt. I was realistic in understanding that it would take a lot more hard work. But, I was very determined to place third the next day at finals. My stomach dropped a little when I realized that it wasn't over yet and I still had tomorrow to prove myself. I wasn't done with the struggle. That night I vowed that I wasn't doing this for Coach Andrew, I was doing this for me because I was going to prove that height didn't matter. I was going to prove that I have what it takes to be in the top heat and I knew that I had earned my spot.
Because of their success, the top heat at finals for each event gets their names called and they get to walk out to the blocks. The music played and when they called my name, my team and family cheered. I was the only Norse up there. I took pride in that.
This race was different. I was conscious that Haylee and Merritt were next to me. I knew that the two other Gateway Olympians were next to them. I knew that the two other girls that held my almost exact time were there too. I understood that I was the only freshmen out of all of us. All eight of us wanted one thing.
Right foot up, then left. Just like it had always been. My body knew what to do. This time, I didn't notice my fingertips pulling me forward. I noticed my sister at the end of the lane screaming my name. Yelling that I could do it. I focused on her voice. The pain was searing. This race had never hurt me so bad. Knowing that my League title depended on this race terrified me. I didn't want to let Coach down. I needed to do this. My sisters voice got more and more clear in my head. If she trusted that I could do it, then I knew for certain that I could. Not only did she believe in me but I believed in her. I believed that her voice would carry me to the end. “You can do it Hannah!” She cheered. “Just a little further!” She clapped her hands and grinned at me. Right then and there I knew that I was going to make it. I knew that I would finish my race and I knew that I would be my own champion. Shayna’s voice carried me one hundred yards. When my hands slammed against the wall I knew exactly what I would see.
I looked up at the time board and it said 1:15, and at that moment I realized I had maintained that time. I was proud. Next to the 1:15 was a four, which meant I had gotten fourth. I know some people would have been upset, but I was thrilled because I had placed fourth out of the 200 people in my league. Placing fourth was good for me, and it only means that next year I will be on the top of that podium because I will work that much harder. My story does not end with reaching my ultimate goal, because I haven’t yet. I will win the gold and I will do it because I believe in myself. Dan Gable said, “Gold medals aren't really made of gold. They're made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.” I know that I’m the leader that will win my race this season at leagues. I won’t give up until I am at the top of the podium. I plan on proving a point that with hard work and dedication I will earn my medal. The size of your body or your height most certainly does not determine whether you can do something or not. The fact that people underestimate me makes me want to win all the much more.