Two cousins gave me my first swim lessons, basically by letting me fend for myself & pulling me up for air occasionally. Summers were spent in the pool so that’s where I wanted to be. It didn’t matter how I got in there. I’ve never been the biggest fan of lifejackets so I learned to swim early and often.
“Did you hear that Michael Phelps has wicked ADHD & the only way he could focus was under water because he couldn’t hear anything.”
Whether that’s true or not for Michael Phelps I can tell you it is true for some. Go jump in a pool, stay fully submerged, and then look around. What can you hear? Not much. Swimming is as simple as it is complicated, swim to the “X” at the other end. It’s pretty close to perfect as far as focal points go, especially if you’re looking for ways to block people out.
I don’t talk about it often but I was bullied in school, most notably grades 5-8. I was the new girl in the world’s smallest class, I’m also different from your average person, and girls can be relentless. I could hear people whispering and I knew it was about me so I did what I always did. I pretended I couldn’t hear them.
”She’s a really good swimmer”
I had met two of my classmates the summer before school started in the pool of the club our parents belonged to. I had hoped we’d become friends once school started, no such luck, but they acknowledged I was good at something.
I was around 11 by the time swim lessons involved swimming full laps. My first lesson was pretty exhausting but by the end of the swimming “term” I was able to keep up with the class. It was breaking through a glass ceiling for me. I was finally able to swim full laps, the catch is, in my mind that meant being “old enough.”
As soon as I could swim full laps I had a friend teach me how to do a flip turn and practiced it endlessly. We’d turn on the flood lights & go swimming at midnight in my aunt’s pool when we couldn’t sleep. I wore one piece racing suits & swim caps. I was ecstatic when my aunt agreed to buy me my 1st pair of mirrored goggles. I was just as heartbroken when I lost them over the winter.
I hated the words “adult swim” because the adults were allowed to swim laps only, and that’s all I wanted it do. I watched the swim team from afar every year wishing I could wear the same blue racing suit.
It stirred up some feeling, mixed ones at that.
One summer I asked my mom to ask “Coach” if I could try out for the swim team (I was too intimidated by him to do it on my own), maybe practice with them a few times if he thought I wasn’t ready. I knew I probably wasn’t as ready as he would’ve liked but I knew he could work with me.
He had said “No.”
He knew he wasn’t going to let me join the team no matter how well the tryout went so he didn’t see the point in my trying.
I was crushed. If he didn’t even want me to try out I guessed I wasn’t a swimmer at all.
“Coach is a jerk. You wouldn’t have had a good time on the swim team anyway.”
It took a wise all-knowing high school aged babysitter to help me get past it, because when you’re in middle school high schoolers know more than your parents. She had also known “Coach” longer than I had and had friends survive life on the swim team. She was also the one who helped me survive the girl-piranhas. Her opinions were more than valued in my house.
I get where Andi’s coming from.
It’s hard to watch someone come in last. I often watch World Championships & even Olympics where someone comes in not just last, but painfully so. I use to wonder why someone would allow such an embarrassment for their country. One day while watching a race it hit me, like a ton of bricks.
This is the biggest stage anyone can compete on, ever. No matter what happens they made it this far. That in itself is an honor & deserves to be respected. Sometimes “just showing up” does make a difference. And just like someone has to come in first someone has to come in last. It’s one of the not so fun aspects of life.
I understand Sarah Kate all too well.
She’s having fun with her friends, and probably making a few new ones. She’s not she-who-has-cerebral-palsy is having fun with her able-bodied friends. She’s having fun with her friends.
That’s enough. In fact, that’s plenty.
Coming from a girl who wasn’t even allowed a tryout
Just knowing Sarah Kate is allowed to compete makes my loss not feel like one any longer, it’s a sign of progress.
Although it would be nice to find that coach after all these years and show him what I’m made of.
*A similar version of this post was written on August 9, 2012