Courtesy: Alan Atkinson
It’s 5:00 a.m. The alarm clock sets off, the one on the phone rang and another alarm buzzed on the other phone. Race day again. It would be the final time that my wife Jeannie and I would have to get up this early and get ready to go to a swimming pool (at least for a long time to come) for our daughter Laura Atkinson’s race championship at Bukit Jalil National Aquatic Stadium, Kuala Lumpur. It was the Malaysian International Open Swimming Championship, 2019.
This was the last day of the championship. It was to be Laura’s last swim races in Malaysia before she embarked on a new chapter in her life. She was going abroad to the U.S. for her tertiary education and University/college swimming. As I watched her load her swim gear in the car; I could not help but glance back over the years from when all this first began.
In 2007, when Laura was about six years old; we signed her up for swimming lessons at a small community club near our home. All was well with Laura at the kiddie pool – she played with all the other kids. This was fine and went on for a few weeks. When the serious lessons started, she wanted to quit as she didn’t like water splashing on her face. I made a deal with her that she could stop lessons as soon as she could swim better than me (not that I was anywhere close to the likes of Michael Phelps or Adam Peaty).
That day came not too long after when she could outswim me in distance and in speed. It was that time when she decided that she wanted to be a World Champion swimmer.
Laura’s first big-time championship competition (and a first for Jeannie and me as parents) was at the 2011 Selangor Age Group meet in Malaysia. We thought it was a weekend race, i.e. Friday thru Sunday. We did not realize that this championship started on Thursday which meant that Laura missed out on two events. It was a big event with over 1,000 swimmers participating that weekend. As new kids on the block; we hadn’t the faintest idea how these championships worked. In her first race, she won. We thought she was going to get a medal or something. We were just as excited as she was or more. But then, it was the second heat of 40 plus heats for that event. Haha. We learnt.
Laura kept on improving and getting better at each championship she participated in. Before long, she earned her way to being selected as a state swimmer representing Selangor. She was also amongst the top 3 in Malaysia for the 50m and 100m Breaststroke girls age group swimmers.
As parents, Jeannie and I were her anchor support. We were at most of her training sessions. Our willingness to see to it that she got to training, every day and on weekends, double sessions. Laura always pushed us to get her to training early, not on time because reaching on time meant being late. Being “on time” to her means getting off the block when the whistle blows; not getting ready to start her sets.
Jeannie and I were also at all her championship competitions, even when they were held in other parts of the country. On race day events which were sometimes four days per competition championship; we would be up at 4: 30 a.m. and off to the pool and only finish when the races for the day were over. That included the days when Laura travelled with the team. Many non-swimmer parents thought of us as stark-raving mad – sometimes Laura had only one event which lasted for 30 seconds, but we would be with her and the team the whole day until the end, to support them.
It has been two years since we last physically attended any of Laura’s races. But we are still with her at all her race championships right up until today, whenever Millikin University Swimming live streams its events; “Go Laura Go” cheering on top of our voices can still be heard, halfway round the world even though the time-zone difference is 13/14 hours. This translates to between 2-6 a.m. in Malaysia. We have become Millikin University Swimming fans.
These days, Jeannie & I spend our time talking with parents, encouraging them to dedicate some of their time towards their children’s interest in an extracurricular activity. We are more passionate when they talk about the idea of swimming and wanting their child to be a competitive swimmer. That’s right up our alley. It may prove challenging, but then, the rewards of them excelling in their field of interest would be all the worthwhile.
We have been asked many times whether if we had a chance to do this all over again, would we? The answer is a resounding, yes.
Alan is a writer, blogger and a motivational coaching for teenagers. His wife, Jeannie, is in business development and their child, Laura, is majoring in Entrepreneurship at Millikin University (class of 2023).