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To The Limit
This was it. It all boiled down to this one race, my one chance. I had never felt so nervous the whole time I had been alive, and this was the worst. I wore the goggles around my neck proudly that day, as all the girls on my team did, but I didn’t feel confident. Here, I didn’t even think I was going to qualify, and I had made it. It was Friday, the day of finals, and I was sick to my stomach.
I didn’t think I was a bad swimmer -- not entirely. There were things I did that could use improving, and there were others things I felt I was pretty good at, but everyone has their differences. Backstroke was my favorite stroke, and I was decent at it, but freestyle was my best. When I joined the team my freshmen year, I had never competed before. If you would have told me then that I would be doing the 500 freestyle and not fainting afterwards, I wouldn’t have believed you.
But here I was, the day of finals, sick to my stomach, and freaking out about it to every member of the team who would listen.
“Look, you got this,” A member of the boy’s team told me when I ran up to him between second and third hour. We hardly called him anything but OO. “Just stay long and keep yourself relaxed. Just think to yourself, what would OO do?” This made me laugh, and I was a little more relaxed throughout the day, until I saw Claudia, or Leslie, or any other member of the team, and then I started telling them just how scared and nervous I was. I could hardly keep together all the advice they gave me, the tips and strategies that they provided me with to keep me relaxed.
All throughout the meet, I was cheering for my teammates, getting completely involved in the joys of a meet that I almost forgot about my event. Almost. When the time came that they called for the swimmers of the 500 freestyle, I almost choked. It took Mikey, Riane, and my sister Michelle just to calm me down and direct me to Marshaling, where I sat with Claudia and Kanna from my team, who would be doing the event with me, and a nice girl from another school, who I talked to for the whole time we were waiting. When they finally told us to get up and go to our lanes, the nerves came back. I felt weak on the walk to lane 2 that seemed to take longer than it ever had, but once they blew the whistle that signaled for us to step up onto the blocks and get ready to complete 20 lengths of the pool, OO’s voice and words of encouragement echoed through my head. I suddenly felt the strong burst of energy that I get right before a race. I thought I wouldn’t get it for this race, I didn’t feel it in me, but it couldn’t have come at a better time.
As we sprinted off the blocks, I started off slow, did my bilateral breathing, and didn’t think about anything. The only thing echoing in my head was OO’s words: “You got this, just relax, stay long,” so I did just that. I stayed long, kept my breathing even, and flipped turned as much as my body would let me. I couldn’t hear the cheers of my team while in the water, but while turning, I could see their faces, and hear their screams, telling me to kick, telling me to pick it up. And I listened. For the first time in doing the 500, I wasn’t getting tired, and I was on my 11th lap.
I took slight glances at the clock when I came off of my turns, and I suddenly realized that I wasn’t doing too badly. I was pulling third and fourth, alternating every few turns, but I was neck in neck with Kanna. I had never beaten her before, and I didn’t think I stood a chance -- until now. She was my teammate, and either way, it would be a team win, but I suddenly realized that I wanted this more than I had wanted anything in my life. I pulled harder, flipped faster, and stayed long, all while listening to the cheering of my coach and my teammates, that seemed to get louder at every turn. I had gotten to the 17th lap, and I was starting to feel the burn of my chest, and the feeling that my stomach was going to collapse. But I watched the clock, and I was still neck in neck with her, so I pulled faster and got more aggressive. I forced myself to flip turn those last few laps, and when I finished, I felt like my lungs were going to collapse.
The natatorium was so loud, that I couldn’t hear anyone’s individual voices. All I heard was racket, and I just wished it would stop, because my head was pounding and I wanted to throw up. When I dared to look at the scoreboards, my heart fell. The third place time was almost a minute better than my best time, Kanna was at the wall, and it was over. I couldn’t think about anything for those few seconds, except that I was a failure and I had gotten fourth. I was being very hard on myself, considering I didn’t even expect to qualify.
Suddenly, the noise and racket of the crowd started to mean something. The girl from one of the rival schools, the nice one that I was talking to before the race, was smiling and helping me out of the pool. “You did it!” She screamed at me, and I had no idea what she meant. She kept screaming it over and over again, and suddenly I looked backwards. My coach was behind me, smiling and eagerly pointing to the scoreboard, screaming something I couldn’t quite make out. It was only then that I realized that I did get third place, only by a couple seconds, but I had beaten my best time by almost a full minute! I didn’t know which to do -- cry, or laugh, so I did both.
As I passed by the stands with Claudia, who had gotten first, as expected, I saw my mother. This was the first meet she had ever come to, and the smile on her face was priceless. I didn’t know what to say -- I was so happy and no words would come out when I tried to speak, so I did that little sneaky run that swimmers do sometimes, the one that your not supposed to do on the pool deck, over to my teammates. I was immediately engrossed in hugs, and I got one remark from Andrew that I will never forget: “And you didn’t think you would qualify.” He said it with a smile, and I laughed.
After I got over the initial shock of placing, I felt bad that I had beaten Kanna. She was the one expected to win, and though she was a freshman and I a sophomore, I had always thought she was the stronger swimmer of the two of us. My teammates quickly told me not to worry about it, we had both swam our best race, and they were sure she didn’t hold a grudge against me for it.
I never even expected to qualify for that meet, let alone place, so the sense of accomplishment I got from the experience is one I cannot even begin to explain. It proved to me that I was not only physically stronger than I had originally thought and allowed myself to be, but also more emotionally stable as well. I no longer worry about swim meets or the pressure that they used to put me through. I just trust that my body will always swim its best race, and it doesn’t matter if my mind seems to think otherwise, because when I enter the water, my mind doesn’t have a say anymore -- it’s up to my body to push me to my limits.