Courtesy of J. S. Smiley
Her stomach is twisted in anticipation; years of time in the pool have lead up to this moment. The music is raging in her ears, yet, the roar of the crowed is greater still. Humidity hangs in the air, covering everything like a blanket. The lights seem brighter, and the chlorine stings her nose just a little more than usual. She attempts to focus on her stretching, but the atmosphere is too distracting. In an effort to concentrate on her event she starts jumping up and down on the deck. She feels her calves tense and stretch out with each jump; the soles of her feet absorb the impact of the landing, which send tiny ripples of energy up her leg.
She stops jumping after a little bit and observes the race that is about to start before her. She watches passively as the swimmers adjust their blocks, ready their caps, and fiddle with their goggles. In a few moments that will be her. She starts swinging her arms. Although she looks stoic on the outside, she is in the midst of a fierce mental battle with herself. Negative thoughts are racing in and out of her head, chased only by the few positive thoughts she forces herself to think. The negative thoughts are winning decisively.
The other swimmers step up to their lane apprehensively. Various whistles sound and they clamber onto the blocks almost uniformly. They immediately launch into their pre-race rituals. Some shake out their arms, others clap loudly in order to show their anticipation, and a few stand calmly upright staring out across the water; all are ready to race.
“Take your marks!” says a man, his voice sounding almost robotic as its projected through the megaphone.
The swimmers bend down, grabbing the edge of the blocks. Muscles tense up. Everyone falls quiet. The only sounds are the mechanical hum of the generators and the whirring of a fan. Anticipation for the race fills the arena.
BRRRRRRT! The buzzer sounds and the swimmers dive forward elegantly. Their bodies are arrows soaring through the air. Cheers erupt from the stands as everyone’s favorite swimmers launch forever forward. The swimmer’s hands hit the water, breaking the glass of the pools surface. The leader pops up three-quarters of the pool away, his arms pumping furiously. The others follow closely behind
She steps up behind the blocks to take the place of those now in the pool. The knot in her stomach squeezes tighter as her race nears. In only a few short seconds the current race will end, and she will have to go. She stretches out her arms one last time while staring out at the pool. Lane five is leading the pack, with lane four following close behind. The rest of the swimmers lag behind.
She refocuses on her pre race ritual. Shake out the arms, stretch the legs, adjust the cap, and just breath deeply. A steady stream of terrible thoughts continue to race into her mind; all telling her that she’s not good enough. She attempts to push them away by envisioning exactly how her race is going to go, second by second. She imagines herself stepping up to the blocks, the buzzer sounding, her first stroke, the flip turns, the kickouts and the final reach for the wall.“You can’t do
“You can’t do it” says a voice in her head interrupting her thoughts. The voice continues “This is going to be terrible, why did you even sign up for this? Better yet, why did you even start this sport?”
“Just do what you do in practice” her own voice fights back, “You’ve got this. That’s what all those hours in the pool are for.”
She forces a smile on her face and attempts to distract herself again with the race that is just finishing. Lane Four clutches the win, with lane five coming in a fraction of a second later. Now it’s her turn. Excitedly, she puts one foot up on the step of the block. Her heart is fluttering as fast as a hummingbird’s wings. Adrenaline is pumped into her veins, causing her entire body to tingle. Her muscles feel relaxed, yet powerful. She is calm.
“Take your marks,” says the robot voice.
She bends over and grabs the block, her fingers curling over the edge. The surface is rough on her hands, however the grip is smooth. The clear blue water just below is acts as a mirror and she can see her face looking back at her. She sees the confidence in her own face and a final thought goes through her head before the buzzer sounds, “you can do this” she tells herself.BRRRRRRRRRT! She rips the block
BRRRRRRRRRT! She rips the block backwards while simultaneously leaping forward. The motion propels her far over the water. She is flying. Her hands are held tightly over her head, and her arms squeeze tighter; forming a knife in preparation of the violent entry into the water.Before she knows it, she is gliding peacefully below the water. Everything is dark blue, and the only sounds are the slight rustle of water passing all around. It feels as if she could stay there forever and everything would be perfect. She beats her legs back and forth furiously trying to get as much propulsion as possible. All around her the other swimmers are moving smoothly through this underwater paradise. Her lungs start burning, but she forces herself to stay down longer.
Before she knows it, she is gliding peacefully below the water. Everything is dark blue, and the only sounds are the slight rustle of water passing all around. It feels as if she could stay there forever and everything would be perfect. She beats her legs back and forth furiously trying to get as much propulsion as possible. All around her the other swimmers are moving smoothly through this underwater paradise. Her lungs start burning, but she forces herself to stay down longer.
All too soon she begins to resurface. As soon as the top of her head breaks the surface of the water, she leaves the tranquil world behind and enters a world of pain and violence. Her hands beat the water, the air stings her lungs, her muscles burn, and her eyes can barely focus on the signature black line along the bottom. The race seems quick, yet also like a lifetime. All of her thoughts are consumed by the race.
She comes up to the wall, signified by the black T at the bottom of the pool. Her lungs are screaming, her muscles are on fire; she presses on into the flip turn. Out of breath before the turn, she holds out even longer because the race demands it.
Her body gyrates under the surface as she kicks farther and farther away from the wall. Once again she is pulled up into the frantic world. Luckily, she is conscribed to pain and suffering for only just a little while longer. Unfortunately, she has no idea if she is winning; which means all motivation must be internal. As she realizes that the fate of the race hinges on her ability to galvanize her mind and body into pushing harder than she’s ever pushed before, she begins to panic. Everyone possesses one thing within them which, when accessed, will release a motivation so intense and so fiery that every minor problem falls by the wayside. It is a fury; a burning feeling that causes jaws to clench, brows to furrow, and eyes to pierce whatever they happen to be looking at. As she desperately scrapes the bottom of the barrel for motivation, she finds this hidden, mysterious force, and unleashes this rage upon the pool. Her muscles, which once screamed with pain, fall silent. Her heart pounds harder in her chest as her mind and body completely succumb to this new drive.
She approaches the finish. Her legs are dying; it takes all of her focus to keeping the same powerful tempo. As her legs tire, her arms begin to fail. The finish is only 8 yards away, but they will be the longest 8 yards of her swimming career. The pool appears to stretch out farther and farther with each stroke she takes. Her newfound motivation begins to slip away, replaced by a terrible ache that centers in her abdomen. She stretches out for the wall. Every muscle in her body is pulling her as far forward as possible. The tips of her fingers touch. She is done.
Her body is weak. Rather than looking at the clock, or her various friends waiting to talk to her, she collapses backwards into the water and floats on her back. She can barely lift her arms out of the water. She looks around and sees only one other person done.“I guess I got second,” she thinks to herself, still without checking the clock. She watches the other swimmers come into the wall, still waiting for the whistle to dismiss her from the pool. When the whistle sounds she struggles to pull herself out of the pool. Her arms are so weak, and her heart still feels like it’s going to explode out of her chest. She lies down on the pool deck trying to recover.
“I guess I got second,” she thinks to herself, still without checking the clock. She watches the other swimmers come into the wall, still waiting for the whistle to dismiss her from the pool. When the whistle sounds she struggles to pull herself out of the pool. Her arms are so weak, and her heart still feels like it’s going to explode out of her chest. She lies down on the pool deck trying to recover.
Eventually, she musters the courage to stand up and make her way toward the coaches table to find out what she did wrong. She stares down the row of tables and finds her coach holding her stopwatch out toward her and grinning like a madman. Her eyebrows furrow in confusion. She looks up at the clock, but the next heat has already started and it’s too late to see her time. She glances back at her coach, who has begun to walk toward her.
Her coach reaches her, and without saying a word, holds the stopwatch up to her. She lets out a cry that resembles that of an angry cat, and falls back down to the deck. Tears of joy are streaming down her face. A best time of 0.5 seconds.
About J. S. Smiley
My name is J. S. Smiley. I’m currently a sophomore at the United States Naval Academy. I swam for many years and miss that time in the pool just a little more every day.