Chalk It Up To Experience This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

   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 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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