“Event Eleven, Heat Two. Four Hundred Yard Freestyle Relay, Swimmers Take Your Mark”…
That phrase always excites me as the father of a remarkable young swimmer. The buzzer that goes off is the exact same as is used in the Olympics.
The buzzer goes and the first swimmer in my daughter’s relay team dives off the block… Within ten yards, I know they’re in trouble. My daughter is on the “B” team and the “A” team is already ten yards ahead. That fast. Worse, two other teams are even within striking distance of the A team and they’re holding their own. The fifth relay team is right on our heels and looks to be catching. It seems like an eternity before our boy makes it to his half-sideways flip turn. The other three teams are halfway to the next flip… By the time his four lengths are done my daughter’s team is tied for fourth place and almost 25 yards behind. As he approaches she steps up on the block and takes her mark…
My daughter’s form is not flawless, but it’s good. She holds her streamline well once she enters the water and dolphin kicks like she means it. She breaks the surface of the water and acts as if she’s set free. Immediately she sets to reeling in the three relay teams that are just about to hit their first flip turn – she’s that far down. The “A” team is starting to pull away from the other two… My girl hits her first flip and you can tell she’s making up distance, just not exactly how much. By the second flip she’s within shouting distance, the gap has closed considerably, maybe ten yards now. At her third flip she’s almost on the two straggling teams…. This is where she normally slows, but she doesn’t. She finds another gear and hammers home her last 25, passing the third team and when she hits the wall to release the third swimmer she’s less than a second behind.
My daughter’s team relay team went from fifth to less than a second behind second place in 100 yards. Never before have I been so proud of my little girl, who isn’t so little anymore. I’m almost misty writing this post, and reliving the excitement, the awe, of her efficiently closing what I thought was an insurmountable gap.
Her team ended up taking second in that heat by better than ten seconds… after being down by almost a full length of the pool.
Rewind one day, less than 24 hours. Rules require that my daughter swim with the team the day before a swim meet. Otherwise, she’s free to swim with her travel team which is vastly more competitive (thus, better for her continued improvement). Due to a high school meet, this meant she had to swim with the team on Monday so we took her to her travel team practice on Tuesday. After an hour in the pool, her little sister already done, she looked up at me in the stands and asked if she could get out to save some for her meet the following day.
I said, “Give me another half-hour and you can call it good”.
She looked at me with a pouty, “C’mon dad” look.
I responded, “Fine, you can get out but I don’t want to hear any whining about how you’re not fast enough”.
Without a word, she turned around, got in the pool and did her half-hour. A good half-hour.
When we parents make hard work look easy, it’s tough for the kids to grasp how hard “hard” really is. I’ve explained to her on more than one occasion that I cycled for two consecutive years with tendonitis in my right elbow because I wasn’t willing to take the three weeks off the bike it would take to heal. I knew it wasn’t going to get any worse (or at least I kept a watchful eye on it) so I just went with it. That night, on the way home, I told her I was so very proud of her effort. She really gutted it out and impressed me. I explained that if you wait for every little pain to feel good, if you wait for the timing always to be right to work hard, you’ll never get fast. It rarely happens that everything is absolutely perfect enough to make you want to push it hard enough to puke… In the rare instance it happens, most people want to take it easy to enjoy the fact that nothing hurts!
My kid, put simply, is learning how to work hard no matter what, and that’s often a painful lesson. Both to receive and often to teach. Facts are facts though, effort must be in line with hopes and dreams – not the other way around. I can dream big as the day is long but if I don’t put in the effort to make it happen, they’re not dreams. They’re wishes, and wishes only work with genies.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a line on a genie.
Good times and noodle salad though. This is fun, if sometimes painful, to watch. I love this whole “dad” thing far more than I could have wished for.