A swimmer's unrelenting determination

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I cried out in pain and as I fell the sound of bone grinding against bone echoed through my skull. Moments before I had been walking across the wet bleachers, talking to my fellow teammates, and suddenly my view changed from my friend’s faces, to the overcast skies. I slammed hard into the bleachers and slipped through them, cracking my already sprained ankle. I set up slowly and with one look at my ankle, I knew I had fractured it. It was already swollen when I had arrived at our district swim meet, now my ankle throbbed, turning a brilliant color of purple, with a slight yellow tint. The pain in my ankle seemed unbearable at the time, but I wasn’t about to let my team down. Fractured ankle or not, I was swimming in our district meet.

Our coach yelled over the booming speakers, “All swimmers in the water for warm-up!” I limped over to the side of the pool, pulled my cap over my head and yanked my goggles on, then did an awkward, one-footed dive into the pool. My ankle seared with pain. The logical part of my brain was screaming to get out of the water, but the other half just kept repeating, “pain is only temporary, keep going…” I swam easy during warm up, petrified of further injuring myself. My coach pulled me aside, assuring me that I didn’t have to swim my events, and that someone could take my place in the relay. I wouldn’t hear of it.

Ten minutes later it was time for my first race, the 200-medley relay. The medley relay is an eight-lap race swam by four swimmers. The first swimmer swims two laps butterfly, which is a difficult stoke requiring the swimmer to move their body like a dolphin, while lifting both arms, simultaneously, out of the water, doing two kicks for every single pull. The second swimmer swims two laps of backstroke, a stroke simply requiring a swimmer to swim on their back, rolling their shoulders as they pull the water with one arm after the other, while flutter kicking. The third swimmer swims two laps breaststroke. This stroke requires a certain amount of rhythm and timing, the stroke greatly resembles that of a frog. The fourth and final swimmer, which happened to be me that day, swims freestyle, the most basic of the swim strokes. The freestyle stroke is basically the same thing as backstroke except it is swam on the stomach and not on the back. There was one swimmer in front of Holly. Holly was the third swimmer and was therefore swimming breaststroke. Being the fourth swimmer, I clumsily clambered onto the block. I tried my best to block out the extreme amount of pain radiating from my ankle. Holly hit the wall and I dove. I began kicking and the pressure against my ankle made me scream out loud, I was sucking in water but I wouldn’t stop. The relay team in the lead was only seconds in front of me; I could see the steady kicking of the leading swimmer’s feet out of the corner of my eye. I picked up pace, lifting my head to the side every seven strokes to take quick breaths. I gained quickly; we were neck and neck and came into the wall fast. My team erupted in cheer. With much effort I lifted my head and glanced at the time board. We had won! My teammates pulled me out of the water, and I rested until it was time for my final and most important event, the 50-freestyle.

The 50-freestyle is a race purely about speed. Improving your 50-free time by only one second is like pulling teeth if not harder. It’s a two-lap race. For the last two months my time had been stuck at 30.62 seconds, I couldn’t seem to improve it. Waves of pain and dizziness overcame me as I stepped onto the block for my 50-free race. The cheers from my team blurred into a monotone ringing in my ears. I was scared. Scared of losing, scared of letting my coach down, and scared of hurting myself, but I had never let fear get in my way before and I wasn’t about to let it then. “Swimmers take your mark!” I barley heard the announcer through the ringing in my ears. I crouched low, grabbed the edge of the diving block and listened for the buzzer. It sounded and I jumped. My hands, head, shoulders, and waist glided effortlessly into the water, but the second the pull of the water caught my ankle, I truly thought I was about to black out. I began swimming, kicking, pulling, and screaming. I started to notice my goggles were filling up with water. Were they leaking? No, with a small note of surprise I realized my own tears were filling the goggles. The pain was unbearable; I wanted to stop, I was praying for it to be over. I could see the wall ahead, I was almost done, and I was so close. With one final pull my fingertips hit the wall hard. The second all swimmers had reached the wall, I hauled myself out of the water, over to the trashcan, and threw up, wishing my pain would disappear with my lunch. I had no such luck. After emptying my stomach I collapsed. I barely heard my teammates talking, they were telling me to look at the time board. I stared at the concrete, embarrassed, and afraid to look up and see a horrible time. I slowly raised my head. 29.34! I had done it; I had beaten my previous time.

Now nearly a year later, I still swim. It is more than just a sport. To me, it is a passion. That day at districts taught me a lot though. Not just how to deal with pain, but how to use determination as fuel for everyday life. I learned that no matter what the obstacle, with a little faith, determination, and dedication it can be overcome. My 50-freestyle time has now dropped to a 28.9. I’m looking forward to going to districts this year, and out racing some of the swimmers who out swam me last year. Maybe this year I’ll watch where I’m walking. Hopefully, I’ll stay away from wet bleachers.





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JessB. said...
Sept. 10, 2009 at 3:11 am
I love it! You kept me reading. Very interesting, and even while telling the more technical side of the relay, you kept it interesting.
- And from one competitive swimmer to another - BRAVO! - and congrats on the hard-won victory.
 
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