“3, 2, 1, GO!”
And I dived.
I didn’t jump—I leaped. Into the air and down, down, down. Everything seemed to be blurred—the only thing that I could see was my lane as my body crashed into the cool water, the shock of the changing temperature only lasting for a second. And I was under. I held my breath as I vigorously dolphin kicked for a few seconds and then I came to the surface. I sucked in as much air as I could in as little time as possible.
And I was off.
I was kicking like a motorboat, slightly curving my arms and cupping my hands, one at a time.
In, out, in, out! I thought as I used all of my training, all of my coaching, to let me keep going, let me go faster, let me win!
I looked ahead and through my blurry, water-filled goggles, I could see, looming before me, the wall.
And I propelled myself forward, taking a breath, and using every ounce of strength in my body.
And then I was there.
I used my arms to push myself out of the pool and stood there, panting.
And then I looked up.
There was a man, one man. I looked around and saw that there was one man or woman at the end of each lane, keeping track of the time, and the winners.
And then it happened.
The man held up, for everyone to see, a big plastic card saying: #1.
A number one.
I had won.
At first I just stood there in a shocked silence. What?! I was in the 8-10 girls group.
And I was only 8.
But I had won.
A mere 15 seconds later, I was dangling my legs into the edge of the pool, absentmindedly slurping at my water bottle. My heart had slowed to its regular pace. I was very proud as I sat watching the last of the swimmers finish up.
But it wasn’t over yet.
The timekeeper signaled the end of the race and everyone sat through the two- minute break, sipping water and restoring their energy for the next race—backstroke.
Again, we got into our positions for the race. I wasn’t feeling as nervous as last time, but my stomach was turning and my hands trembling. I forced myself to inhale . . . exhale. Unlike last time, we would start in the pool and kick off the wall, backwards, when the whistle blew.
And it sure did blow.
“3, 2, 1, GO!”
I flew off the wall, squeezing all of the power I could produce into that kick. I started kicking my feet like a maniac and keeping my arms in the perfect technique that my coach had taught me. I searched my mind, using every bit of information about swimming the backstroke to help me go faster.
Backstroke is a fairly easy stroke to learn with good coaching. The only problem is direction. You need to swim as straight as possible without being able to look behind you.
It was hard—believe me.
But I had a stroke of luck. Literally.
I reached the wall and was almost shivering with excitement as I swiveled around in the pool and launched myself out of it. I eagerly looked up at the man.
In his hand.
I was stunned. Completely and utterly stunned.
“3, 2, 1, GO!”