Clutch This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Every time I breathe in that familiar, biting smell of chlorine, I can feel it. Moist skin, sticky with condensation; shoulders sore and irritated, compressed by my much-too-small bathing suit; the oh-so-familiar sensation of water pooling around my feet, most likely bombarding my flesh with infection. But most of all, it’s the feeling of nerves. The sensation is vivid: butterflies, but tighter, condensing all my emotions, angst, and adrenaline to my core where they settle in my stomach. Every movement feels concise and deliberate. I have total mastery over my body.

Thirteen, 14, 15 … As the events grow closer to the ever-impending 16, an eerie calm washes over me, and I begin my pre-race rituals. I am in the zone. My bathing cap tugs at my hair; I lower my goggles, focus on my breathing, and visualize my legs pushing off the block.

“Swimmers, step up.” Though the throngs of people scream individual encouragements, their sound reaches me as one solid wave. The energy of their noise emanating from all sides of the pool serves as a boundary for my tunnel vision. I hear and see nothing outside, and my focus is enclosed.

“Swimmers, take your marks.” I grab the block with both hands, shifting the weight to my feet to get the best grip.

“GO!” The final breath that must last me most of this first lap tears through my body as my legs push off with all their might. My mental acuity paralyzes me from the chill of the water, and as my torso breaks the surface, my body goes into autopilot.

Over the next four laps, through four different strokes, I lose all concept of time. Every cell in my body pushes to its limit, and my movements feel powerful. With mind over body, I feel no pain and push through any fatigue that hits me. With water as my medium, I am forced to monitor my breathing and pacing closely. I pull ahead.

In the final lap of my individual medley, I switch to my favorite stroke: freestyle. Swimmers can race however they want during their fourth lap. Despite its name, the freestyle is usually the most unified, across the board stroke of all. Every person racing has mastered her own technique, practiced for hours, and is willing to do anything to touch that wall first. It is in these clutch moments that training and mind power decide who will prevail.

I break the rule. I look to my right to check the competition, but no one is in sight. I glance to my left and see my opponent, the opponent. At this point, she is the only one who can possibly take this race from me. The adrenaline rush from seeing her alongside me triggers something in my body, and suddenly I know I am going to win.

I bury my head in the water and haul my body with every ounce of energy I can muster. My kicks become short and strong, splashing droplets of water into the air to crash on my wake. Breathing is not an option. There is something in the thrill of close competition that sparks my flesh, and motivates me beyond anything. Excitement and determination flood my veins, and I pound through the final strokes. As I break the surface and look to my left, I see I have beaten her and have broken my personal best time. It is in moments like these that I am really, truly happy.

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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