At some point in everyone's life they have heard the phrase, "chalk it up to experience." Although usually heard after a bad experience, in my case it is just the opposite. People learn throughout life and drastic life changes usually do not happen at a young age, but they did for me. It happened St. Patrick's weekend when I was eight years old. I was just a young, unknowing child. I was carefree and clueless to my surroundings, yet, I knew what needed to be done.
While driving to my second state championship swim meet, I was not thinking about swimming at all. The only thing I cared about was the fact that while I was in the car on my way to New York City, all my friends were back home in school. (I knew that if my coach found out that I was not "visualizing my races" he would not be happy, so I kept that thought to myself.) As the signs reading New York City began to appear, my heart started pounding and my blood felt like it was flowing a mile a minute. Then I saw it: the place where I was to swim, and it hit me. I no longer was thinking about friends. All I could think about was swimming. I don't think that I was nervous, really, just overwhelmed and excited. I had never seen anything that big in my life and I certainly never seen that many people in one place doing the same thing - watching. Watching their children and friends children and their children's teammates trying their hardest to finish first. Sounds of screaming and cheering parents and children filled the arena and I could not wait for my turn in the water.
I warmed up and got ready to swim. My teammates were cheering for each other and parents were waving, but I didn't hear or see anything. To me, no one was talking and no sounds were being made; it was like I was there by myself. As my event got closer, I became even more aware of my surroundings. As my coach grinned, I knew it was almost time. I walked to him, received one of his ever-famous pep talks, and went to my lane. I aimlessly looked around at my opponents and could tell by their empty expressions that they felt like I did. Now, it was not only excitement, but also fear and definitely nerves. You could almost take a knife and cut the tension in the air. When I looked up at the stands, the butterflies started flying even faster through my stomach. I kept thinking that all those thousands of people would have their eyes on me in a matter of minutes. Then I told myself to calm down. I had done this a million times before and it would be no different this time, I hoped.
Moments later I heard my name, put my goggles on and stepped behind the blocks. It was time to go and I was certainly ready. The starter sounded and I was off, diving into the freezing water. At first, I felt like a baby just learning to walk; awkward and off balance, but after a few strokes I felt great. The energy was building and I felt like I was flying. In a split second it felt like it was over and I was almost fearful to turn around and look at the scoreboard, but when I did, and read my name in first place under a new state record, I was ecstatic. It was incredible and I almost didn't believe it. I jumped out of the water, hugged my coach and ran over to my team. It was the most overwhelming and unforgettable moment of my life.
Now, almost eight years later I often think about what happened that day. I see how it shaped me into the swimmer and person I am today. I often wonder if that hadn't happened, would I have stuck it out in swimming? Would I be the overall determined person that I am? Then I tell myself what is done is done, to "chalk it up to experience," and to continue on with the rest of my life and my swimming career. l
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.