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Dangerous When Wet
I found myself standing in the middle of the locker room before the most important meet of my life. I stare at the blue lockers with the small silver numbers at the top. I wander around, absorbing all the forgotten memories shared with my team. Feeling overwhelmed, I sit on the old wooden benches in front of the lockers and imagine how many times I’ve sat there before. I go to my locker, number 75, and enter my combination that had been permanently etched into my mind. The locker swings open with a noise that’d always reminded me of a whining cat. Inside I see the sticker that I put there 2 years ago before my first meet. It’s a faded blue shark with the words Dangerous When Wet under it in bright yellow font. It had been good luck to me on so many meets, I hoped with all my heart that it would help today.
I hear the locker room door open and the noise from the crowd echoed in, but it is abruptly cut off as the thick iron door shuts once again. In the archway stands my best friend and I was overtaken with joy. I run and collapse in her outstretched arms burying my face in her frizzy brown hair.
“Wow, ok. I didn’t see that coming!” She says exuberantly as we sit down together on a bench. “Grace, you have no idea how happy I am to see you! I am so nervous, and I don’t think that I can go out there. I mean, what if I mess up? What if I fall off the block?” I babble at her. “Jeez girl! Chillax! You are going to do fine! You’re a wicked swimmer and that’s never going to change.” She said in a calm, reassuring voice. I admired her greatly for her confidence, but I could not find my own.
“But Grace, this meet is so important and if I mess up it’ll all be over!” I say with my voice wavering. “Oh, I see, so you think that this is going to go horribly wrong?” she said, pausing to watch me nod slowly in confusion.”Well, YOU ARE JANE CARMELLO! YOU ARE AN AWESOME SWIMMER AND YOU ARE GOING TO GO OUT THERE AND KICK BUTT!” her loud booming voice echoing through the locker room. I sat there startled at first but then I felt a wave of confidence engulf me and I knew I could do it. Grace saw a smile slowly spreading across my face and she knew her work there was done. “I’ll meet you out there, ok?” she said as she made her way to the door.
On my way out, I paused at the tall, smudged mirror that was hanging on the white brick wall. The person who looked back seemed too beautiful to be me. She had radiant caramel skin with freckles sprinkled across her face. Her long brown hair was swept up to a tight bun on the back of her head. She was wearing my navy blue suit with white stripes gliding gracefully down the sides. I let my hands flow up and down the stripes, feeling the cool fabric move ever so slightly under my finger tips. I see her smile at the motion and I realized that was because my hands were tickling myself. But I knew that the dazzling girl in the mirror was me, and I saw in her angelic face that she was ready to race.
The second I opened the locker room door I knew it was my time to shine. The crowd was cheering words that were too loud to make out; but I imagined that they were all there for me. I approached my team and I was greeted by seventeen tan, smiling faces. Among them was Grace and without her encouragement I probably wouldn’t be standing on the pool deck at that moment. She gave me the biggest smile of all.
Soon the crowd grew silent and a giant American flag was lifted before our eyes. Our team huddled together at the edge of the pool with our hands clasped together behind our backs. Heads down, we all paid respect to our glorious country in silence. As I put my head down, a soft lock of my brown hair fell to my face, and I unknowingly let it dangle in front of my closed eyes.
The pool was so quiet that it could have been empty. And then we heard the high whimsical voices from the rafters. I glanced up and saw two tall, narrow figures standing in the balcony. Their delicate voices were amplified as they echoed off the smooth surface of the pool. Unconsciously, everyone at the pool started softly singing along to the familiar song. As the anthem bounded along with its merry tune, I stayed focused on the wavering aqua blue water that sat at my feet. I knew what awaited me in the chilling water and I couldn’t have been happier about it. I quickly glanced up to see the twelve other teams huddled along the side of the pool, doing the same as us. I saw crowds of tall, muscular girls that made me feel intimidated. But when I looked at my team, Grace caught my eyes and mouthed the words, kick some butt. I giggled quietly to myself and then the anthem was over.
I heard the low, crackling voice of the announcer over the crowd’s ravenous cheers and he said, “Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the 2010 high school girls conference swim meet held in beautiful Grand Haven!” This drove the crowd wild. “Well, good to see we’ve draw such an army of folks that are ready to support these young ladies. We will start today with the 200 medley relay. Swimmers to the start.” He said in a cheery voice that only added to the excitement I was feeling. I watched four of my teammates wander off to find their lane. Then we heard the words that make everyone at the pool get nervous, “Backstrokers enter the water… Place your hands and feet… Take your mark…” and then we heard the loud whiny horn and then eight synchronized splashes. I zoned out for about the next three races, my thoughts pulling me into a trance. Thoughts whirled in my head; She's a champion! No one is going to beat her! I wonder if she can swim that fast? But then my trance-like state of what I think was a pep-talk was broken when I felt a firm, strong hand on my shoulder. I spun around and I found myself face to face with Grace. She pulled me into a swift embrace and whispered good luck in my ear. “Thanks. I gotta go!” I said as I bustled over to my lane, which happened to be lucky lane six.
I stood at the short metal block preparing for my event, the 100 meter butterfly. I focused on the pool in front of me. I entered my own world, my swim state. To me, there were no fans in the dusty gray bleachers, there were no screaming children in the tiny, dull lobby and there were no confused grandparents wandering in the locker rooms. It was just me. When I’m in that state, all bets are off.
I hear the announcer say the words I’ve been waiting so long to hear, “Swimmers step up…” I stood up, tall and strong on top of the block, I felt like I was standing on top of the world, a superhero above the rest. “Take your mark….” I bowed down to the water and harshly grabbed the edge of the block, leaning back ready to slingshot off of it. I hear the buzzer and I shoot forward. I hit the cool water in a perfect streamline. The ice cold water hits me like an electric current shooting through my body. Under the water, I dolphin kick for as long as I can. When I finally break through the surface my arms and legs work together mechanically. My arms swing forward and my legs keep propelling me ahead. I come up to breathe and I heard Grace screaming at me from the end of my lane. On the next breath I look up and only catch a glimpse of her wild, frizzy brown hair. I hit the wall and keep going at lightning speed. At the next wall, I look to the lane next to me and see no one. That makes me so worried. I wonder, Am I in front, or am I way behind? I start sprinting as fast as I can, trying as hard as I can to not breathe and to keep my head in the water. I hit the next wall and I just keep going. My legs are burning and my shoulders are aching but I keep going at full speed. I hit the timing pad at the end of the lane as hard as I could. I ducked out of the water and see that I am alone at the wall. I hear the crowd erupting with excitement. I started cheering too.
The second I got out of the pool I was lost in a sea of arms as I was being hugged by ten different people at once. I quickly break free shouting, “Did anyone catch my time?” I glance up at the electronic scoreboard and see my name, Carmello, J in bright red letters along with the time of 1:01.26. I scream with excitement because I just beat my best time by 16 seconds. I was lost again in the crowd of fans and I hear my coach yell to me, “Congrats, you’re going to state!” I almost fell over with happiness, but thankfully Grace caught me. “See! I told you you were great!” we laughed and marched over to the bleachers and that’s where we stayed for almost the rest of the meet, talking and laughing.
After the meet in the locker room I was standing at my locker changing out of my soggy suit and I thought about how much Grace meant to me. I rummaged through my old, navy blue bag and then I figured it out; Good friends are like bras, they’re supportive and they’re always close to your heart!