One Hundred Meters This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     The turn. For most, a simple midway point. For some, the wall is an advantage. For me it’s a flurry of emotion. The screams. For what? For whom? Am I swimming out of my mind and winning? Am I falling behind like during the morning heat? Are those cheers of support or sympathy? It doesn’t matter. Screaming does nothing. I do everything. Use the wall and finish your last 50 meters - redeem yourself for your failure this morning.

I was seeded fourth of 30 in the morning heat. I had two teammates seeded behind me, one of whom, Nicholas, was an old friend and rival. In the morning I had added two seconds, he had dropped three. So, I am seeded seventh in the finals and in the slow lane. He is seeded first and in the best lane, number four. He’s getting all the hype, and, of course, wants to win again. Since he won this morning and is a better swimmer, why shouldn’t he win? But maybe I’ll beat him.

The official calls us to the blocks and everyone performs a pre-swim ritual. Until this point, I was one of the few who didn’t do anything special before a race. But this time, I kneel before the pool, take some water into my hands and smell it before throwing it back. Then I ask for the strength of a warrior for just 100 meters. I am ready; 100 meters of breaststroke where I have to swim better than I think I can.

My dive is solid and I’m quick off the blocks. The pull-through is long and smooth. My coach’s words pop into my mind as I surface: “Swim it like a 50 and then let’s see what you have inside you.” I sprint to the 50-meter mark. To the turn. To the deciding point. It hurts so much; alright, James, let’s see what you have.

For some, the turn is an opportunity to take the shortest of glances at the competition. Forget that, not enough time. Got to keep pushing. My strokes are getting shorter. “I am become death,” the Hindu text says. Is it over? Did I try too hard ... stop. It’s almost over. Beat yourself up afterwards. Save your thoughts for later. The water is getting warmer; it’s the lactic acid. Get moving, James. Get your strokes longer; pull that water. Kick, stroke and glide. You’re almost there. The wall is getting close, the touch is near, don’t shorten your strokes. Finish what you started; justify the pain.

It was the largest scoreboard I had ever seen. A former Olympic complex, the USC pool was the most fantastic pool I had ever competed in. I loved every inch, from the old bulkheads to the blocks. It felt made for me. And that night, the night I swam my fateful 100 meter breaststroke, that scoreboard I loved displayed a first place next to the first lane. I did the unlikely. No, not unlikely, improbable. Impossible. Adrenaline was numbing me to the pain of what I had just done. The number 108.76 was seared into my memory.

It was the greatest moment of my life. It wasn’t the two second drop, or even the first place. Or even later when I found out it was the third fastest time in the country for my age group, it wasn’t that. It was the pain, the victory over myself and the odds. And most of all, the glory. The celebration and the hugs and the screams of teammates and the Olympic-style celebration of waving my cap. Until that point, I thought I was just another swimmer, better than most, but not spectacular. A hundred meters. Life can change in an instant; mine changed in 100 meters.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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