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The Pools Race
“Varsity Girls 200 Free.”
That’s me. I know because that’s always me; I don’t think they’ve ever called that race and I didn’t go up, because that’s me, that’s my race, I’m that race. But no matter how many times I’ve swam that race, my stomach still turns in knots as I turn myself in knots so my limbs are free and able to glide across the water. My arms lock together behind my back and I curve like a crescent moon, hoping that maybe I’ll get the moons power to bend the water at my will. I crack my neck, my knuckles and my shoulder blades in attempt to expel all of the nervous energy hiding in my bones, but I fail. Every breath I take is like swallowing a dozen knives, I taste the copper in my mouth from the blood that isn’t there, but the pain in my chest is very real and very persistent. I take a step toward the diving block, my heart racing from the nervousness still tucked away in my bones and my breathing short from the oxygen as sharp as knives.
“Fweet,” goes the metallic whistle of the referee.
I’ve been waiting behind the blocks for the muffled shout of the megaphone to call my race up, but now I’m here and I wish I wasn’t. At least 50 pairs of eyes are presenting me with their judgmental stares. I look to my left and to my right and all I can see are other girls walking up to their blocks as I do the same, but are they breathing knives and shaking like an earthquake from the nervousness hiding in their bones? They snap their goggles onto their eyes and look at the shimmering pool, smooth as glass. I see their confidence and I shrink from knowing that this is not my race, this is their race and I shouldn’t be here.
“Fweeeeeet,” it echoes a second time as if to tell me that it’s too late to leave now.
I wait and watch the other girls as they step onto the block. I only wait half a second, but that sliver of time is enough to break the unison of the step we were all supposed to take together. My knees are weak as I look down at the deep blue pool, my lane stretches right in front of me, it grows into an enormous ocean. I tremble as I try to keep my balance on the block which seems to be getting taller and taller every millisecond that passes by. I try to swallow down the knives, and I attempt for one last time to shake out the nervousness from my bones.
“Take your mark.”
I bend over, my right leg behind me, digging into the sandpaper-like texture of the block, and my left toes peeking over the edge. I turn my head to the side and see the other girls looking straight at the pool, fearless and brave. I swallow my cowardice like my last breath of fresh air and breathe out the power of the moon.
And with the crystal blue tone of the megaphone, I launch myself into the air, with no fear, no hesitation. The moon parts the water as I dive deep down into the depths of the 6 foot pool and I emerge with a different state of mind.
I can do this, head down, stare at the obsidian tiles, let them be your road to success. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Breathe. First lap down.
Faster, faster, but don’t wear yourself out in the second lap. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Breath. 6 more laps.
Kick faster, swim harder, pull the water like the moon pulls the waves. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Breathe. 5 more laps.
The water is starting to heat up around me, I can feel beads of sweat stick to my skin despite the water surrounding me. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Breathe. 4 more laps.
Stop thinking, just go fast. 1, 2, 3. Breathe. 4, 5, 6. Breathe. 3 more laps.
She’s getting ahead of you. Push yourself. Faster, faster! 1, 2, 3. Breathe. 4, 5, 6. Breathe. 2 more laps.
My head is getting light, the water is getting grey. 1, 2. Breathe. 3. Breathe. 4, 5. Breathe. 6. Gasp. 1 more lap.
Last lap. Catch my breath. Gasp. Almost there. Push harder. Gasp. 1, 2, 3. Gasp. 4, 5, 6. Gasp and touch the wall.
I cling onto it like I would a mountain’s edge. My head is light, my heart is racing, I’m back to breathing knives and the nervousness is still hiding in my bones. I turn my red face and see that I was the first one to speed into the finish, the next girl who comes in gets a shaky handshake and a raspy, “Good job.”
When the referee calls us out, I slowly crawl out of the water like a serpent and smack against the warm concrete. I want to capture my breathe and make the world stop spinning, but all I can do is smile because, this isn’t my race, this isn’t their race, it belongs to no one but the pool, and the pool, it always wins.