Courtesy: Kalina Emaus
I’m five years old clinching to my stuffed animal Clifford eating a piece of candy in some meeting with my parents. I am so bored. Some person who was also in this meeting exclaimed that he saw my potential in earning a high school diploma to be extremely unlikely. My Mom is my hero and always tries to find creative ways to help me. Snow White is my favorite movie because although no one knows what Dopey is thinking, he is loved. Fast forward a year and school is still a struggle. I can’t remember which hand is right or left even when the teacher tells me “you are left handed, so the hand you write with is your left!” I then switch to writing with my right hand and I am more confused than ever. One plus one is potentially the hardest problem I’ve ever seen, and North, South, East, or West as well as two step directions are skills that I am better off winging because I always get lost no matter how hard I try. Someone had to have wrote on my face that I was not very smart because somehow my classmates convinced me to pull down someone’s pants during recess. School is the last place I want to be.
One day Mom told me my life would look a little differently after school. I’d be joining the Hudsonville Sharks swim team. I am now watching old VHS tapes of the 1988 Olympics and trying to learn as much as possible and Matt Biondi seems like a cool dude to be like. I can’t mess this up like I’ve messed up at school. It is now my first practice and I am counting how many times the coach corrects me or gives me some redirection, only fourteen times! Or maybe it was 41 times. My math skills are not the best but there is something about this place that makes me forget about school for a little while. We are practicing what is called a dive. My eyes are glued to the tent orange floor before entering the water. As I do something in between a dive and a belly flop, my soul feels so free. I have something that I can do, and a place that is nothing like school. This is the best thing ever. I am what they call a swimmer.
I am now nine years old and in fourth grade. I swam my first 500 a year ago when I was eight. My Mom and I made a goal to have my time be shorter than the length of Don McLean song American Pie. We made it by three seconds! I can’t wait to do my first 200 fly when I am 10. All I have to do according to this girl who’s really fast is resist the urge to sprint the first lap. Some kids are really mean though and make fun of me for having a lot of extra energy. At recess I love to run around our soccer field. I blow a dandelion and my wish is that I can run all day. My teacher is amazing and helps me remember why I love swimming. In class she lets us do a bunch of fun projects. I get to write all about my swim meet adventures, about the sport and about why it is so much fun. She put a great big smiley face by one of my stories about where I see myself in 10 years. I’ll be married to my one of my teammates and an Olympian. This Saturday she came to one of my swim meets. I was so relieved I didn’t miscount in my 50 back and embarrass myself with her there. My heart felt so warm as she gave me a big hug and my Mom took our picture. I have a fan and school isn’t so bad because of it. I am almost normal.
I’m 12 now and in seventh grade. A girl from swimming passed away this summer, which has been really devastating. When she was sick everyone would put her initials on our backs. Her life really makes me think about swimming differently. I think of her in a lot and wonder what it would be like if she was still here. I try and swim for her when I get tired.
In case you are wondering the reason I wear a flannel every day with these awesome five dollar cowboy boots from Walmart and my Christmas card is me saying “yeeeehawaww” is because I love Texas, like a lot. And warning if you don’t want to hear about Texas you may have to skip down to age 14. Texas is where I spend my summers and where I will spend the rest of my life in 1,804 days (the day I graduate high school.) I am determined to swim for University of Texas where my hero Josh Davis swam and one day work for camp. Him, Johnny, Katie and my coaches are my favorite people on the entire planet. Josh calls me his 6th child and the “ultimate swim camper!” We eat breakfast burritos, bear claws and brisket every day. He lets us crazy swim campers have so much fun! We go to Texas tubes which is a workout in itself swimming against a crazy current. One time Josh tried to let us go even when the tube chute was flooded. He believed us swim campers were strong and could handle the extra water. Unfortunately for our case the town shut down the river.
I really want to do what Katie does when I grow up. She works the ropes courses and retreats at camp and is so nice to me. We talk about breadsticks and have really good conversations about life on this great big swing. Whenever my flight gets cancelled leaving Texas she doesn’t throw a fit, she gets it worked out and we read laffy taffy jokes to pass the time by.
Johnny, on the other hand, is insane and to prove it, one time he threw a cow tongue to give a visual of how powerful the tongue is and the danger it can cause. He encourages me not to waste fun in life, cheers me on when dry land is really hot and hard. He tells me I’m loved and one time taught me how to drive a golf cart! I don’t doubt he loves me for a second.
My coach wrote me a letter and thanked me for being me. It means the world to me and I have it hanging on the door of my. Someone appreciates me! Everything in life has a whole new meaning and joy because of Texas. I try and keep my memories of this place alive during the school year by driving my friends… well insane. I scream “I LIKE BANANAS” one of our camp songs in every cross country race, and even sang it during my entire first mile of swimming. I feel like I have a home when I’m at camp, and when I’m not there I have songs to sing as practices slowly get harder. The reminders of this place help me block out the people who are judging me. I know they are there but I can’t hear them. All I hear are the voices of camp telling me I am loved and I better believe it. I keep my eyes on my goals of swimming for the University of Texas and working for camp by singing about bananas one day at a time.
I’m 14 now and a freshman in high school. The best of swimming now comes from the friends I’ve made on other teams. I went to zones this summer and it provided me with so many new friends to see at meets. Sometimes we all go get dinner or hangout on the weekends we don’t have meets. We trade swim caps and because of them I have almost a hundred caps now from other teams! High school swim was a lot of fun and I shared a lot of laughs with my new teammates. I think of them whenever I hear the Kelly Clarkson song Stronger and Stereo Hearts. I don’t swim club out of my high school team so not a lot of people know I’m a swimmer. I’m okay with that, I like to play it low key. On my club team we use a lot of different equipment. I really can’t figure any of it out. We tie bags to our feet when we kick, and it takes until the fourth 100 for my bags to not fall off. The song Thunderstruck is officially ruined because every time that song plays at practice we stop what we are doing and have to do a burpee whenever the song says “thunder.” Which is well, a lot of burpees. We do tempo work and trying to follow a beep and swim is overwhelming but everyone else seems to know what they are doing so I have to keep my cool. But then there’s this one thing, I have no idea what it is but it’s the worst invention ever. I can never put whatever it is on right, I can’t ever tell if it’s backwards or right side up. This one girl named Anna always has to help me. I’m so embarrassed and all I want to do is cry. I don’t want to be different from everyone and I don’t understand why can’t I get this thing on right. It’s like when I was younger not knowing which hand is left or right. Despite this, my coach always seems to have high beliefs in me. He says I’ll be a good distance swimmer if I stop circle swimming and something about burning out instead of fading away. I am so frustrated and confused and I swear I hear his whistle in my sleep. I don’t want to be a distance swimmer. It doesn’t scare me, I just don’t really know what I want. All I know is I don’t necessarily like doing 3×1000 and being lapped eight times long course by a defending state champion in the mile and having to hear that “this isn’t so bad! You should hear what they do on this one team!” I am crying at this point, this is eternity how could it be worse! I know way too well that tomorrow I’ll have to do all this butterfly. I put my goggles back on, start singing my camp songs to my head and “suck it up, buttercup.”
I’m 17 and a senior in high school. And well… I am officially a distance swimmer like my coach figured. It is apparently the most amount of time that I won’t talk for! A win to most. For me personally it’s not too bad especially after going a 1:00:00 in the 100 butterfly, I needed break a mental break from fly. I love taking post mile selfies, having a purple rating scale 1-10 which is what my teammate and I use to rate how red our faces get after a long set or race. It is truly the best having a race that’s fairly chill considering I’ve hardly done it. I am a normal-ish teenager and have lots of good friends. I’m making my way through high school and going to college despite what was told to me as a kid. Because of swimming I learned a lot of what is necessary for survival in this world. I learned to persevere, and to try again differently when things fail the first time. I have realized we never will have all the answers and to stay hungry. I’ve decided to go to school to be a teacher. I know what it was like to struggle and I want to show the kids who are different that they are still valued. I am not going to University of Texas like I dreamed but that’s okay. I feel more than fortunate and excited to be going to Northern State University in beautiful East River, South Dakota.
I’m 19 now and a sophomore in college. College is a whole new world and I really enjoy it. I’ve met some amazing people at school and my cross country friends are to simply put it: incredible. One of my best friends lives down the hall from me in room 213. She introduced me to jujubes, raspberry jam, art and a thick Minnesotan accent. It’s fun to learn about a lot of things and I find myself doodling on my way to swim meets now and embarrassed to call my coach, coach because the more I hangout with her the more I am holding out my “O’s and coach sounds like c-oooooo-ach. I enjoy our conference a lot this year. Swimming was brought back after three new schools added the sport. One of the new schools is called Augustana and I love laughing with their distance swimmers before races. They push me a lot because they are really good at back-halfing their races. My goal is to get the NCAA B cut in the mile. The cut is a 17:38 and although my music type isn’t really anything close to the song Trap Queen, I catch myself always singing the beginning part of that song during the mile in hopes of making that cut. One of my favorite parts about college swimming though is watching my teammates swim. As a distance swimmer I am fortunate and only have to swim my race once. I spend the sessions and times I am not racing cheering on my teammates. The smiles and hugs I can give my teammates and watching them race has become something I look forward to. This year though, with so much excitement, is also sad. Our coach is leaving our program after NCAAs. I don’t really know what to do. I am going to train for a marathon and try to give back to others because if I only focus on swimming or myself I will go insane. If I leave my school and all I am remembered as is being a swimmer, I have failed. If I really leave any trace of myself, I have failed, this isn’t all about me.
I’m 21 now and my swim career has officially ended. I have come to the realization the whole purpose of swimming and even life is much greater than me, me, me. I’m obsessed with a quote that says: “We rise by lifting others” by Robert Ingersoll. I was out a month this year at possibly the worst time. I got back in the water around Christmas and trained with my club for a month. There was a 14 year old girl who would ask me questions and I was able to try and help her. When they’d struggle with the equipment like I had when I was their age, they asked if I could help them. Those brief moments and conversations will always be something I will cherish. I know that girl is going to do great things. When I got to conference it was really frustrating to not only add a lot of time in my distance races, but also fall flat on my back and give myself a nice big bruise the night before the meet started. It was just my luck. Somehow though was able to go a PR in the 200 fly, the race I was so excited to swim as a 10 year old. I resisted the urge to sprint that first lap and went from last in the B final at the 100 to second when I finished (10th). I wanted to be top eight like other years but I choose to be happy for the other girls who are standing on the podium. With my frustrations I made Fridays a day to be happy for others successes. In swimming as well as life we are all racing something. We need each other to be better. There’s no reason I can’t take one day out of my week to recognize the good those around us are doing.
I am less than two weeks away from graduating college. I miss swimming a lot, but I truly feel the good it brought me every day. I see it as a mission to give something like swimming to every person I possibly can and to care about that person’s “special something” like my teacher did for me when I was nine. I hear so much about routine, but routine is dangerous if we get so comfortable we forget the things people like Johnny told us. Those things like “you are loved, don’t waste my fun.” And we must we never forget how dangerous a cow tongue can be. (If you’re confused sorry you’ll have to go back to age 12.) I am now off to the “real world” to work at a camp and “to be just like Katie.” In this new adventure I hope I never forget the home of the water, but most importantly always remember what life’s really all about. So to all of you who read until the end, I’m changing tones from telling you my story to now wanting to give you one last thing I want you to know. If you get nothing else from this story just listen to me say: You are loved, I love you and Jesus does too. I hope you find something that gets you excited in this life, I wish you find a way to rise by lifting others, I pray you never give up even if it feels others give up on you. There’s always someone who will care, I promise you I sure do if you can’t think of someone. Lastly, I hope you have the time of your life and not waste a single second of fun.
About Kalina Emaus
A native of Hudsonville, Michigan, Kalina is currently a student-athlete at Northern State University. Naturally curious geography geek who outside of the pool loves traveling, collecting license plates, running, and volunteering. She has dreams to become a teacher and aspires to make this world a happy place.