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Haven't Tried A Swim Meet Yet? Go for It! (Sept-Oct 2017)

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by , August 31st, 2017 at 04:54 PM (758 Views)
In 2007, as a new Masters swimmer—six or so months in—I waited behind the blocks for my first swim race in 30 years. I was in the first heat of the first event, the 1,000-yard freestyle. The “Star-Spangled Banner” played as I stood alongside my fellow competitors, none of whom I knew, in my plain, wide-strap practice suit, new team cap, and comfortable goggles.

When the anthem started, I was shocked to feel an unfamiliar— maybe forgotten—anxiety and emotion. My eyes stung and suddenly I was 12 years old again and all the other girls had grown taller and I hadn’t and I knew I was going to choke and….

I didn’t know most of the people on my new Masters team because I practiced at an off time, and I really had no idea why I even signed up for this dumb event. Waves of regret lapped at my toes as I stepped up on the blocks.

But off I went and before I knew it, 40 lengths went by. After the race, someone asked me, “How did it go?” Basking in a sense of accomplishment, I was proud to report, “It was great!”

What I didn’t know: Around length 27, the swimmer counting for me dropped the plastic lap counter into the (deep end of) the pool. She dived down, retrieved it, and scrambled back on to the bulkhead. Officials and coaches buzzed briskly to the end of my lane to see what, if anything, needed to be done. She had some difficulty with the wet numbers and there was confusion as to what number should be displayed.

But I never noticed a thing.

Such is the power and magic of a competitive event, even if you’re not really a competitor. Although I had some long-ago age-group experience, I was a noob that day. I have no recollection of what place I came in or what my time was. I just remember feeling the exhilaration of doing something seemingly frivolous, yet oddly important to me.

Some of my swimmer friends have literally started from scratch, learning to swim at 40 or 50 and never imagining they would step up on those (frightfully high) platforms, dive in, and race other swimmers. But they did, and have reported similar experiences at their first meets (minus any lap-counter snafus). They, too, don’t remember speedy times or ribbons or glory. But they cherish those moments and how they felt when they touched the wall for the first time in a meet.

Looking through the images captured in Riverside, Minneapolis, and Budapest this year, I’m reminded of how much fun championship swim meets can be. Yes, the nonswimmers in your life won’t understand why you would hang out all day or weekend or week(!) in the sun or inside a biodome-like natatorium, only to leap off the blocks occasionally, pitting yourself against faster swimmers. No, you probably won’t win anything. But you won’t care.

You’ll be too busy cheering for your teammates and discovering (or rediscovering) the crazy fun of relays. If you travel to an unfamiliar city, you and your swim peeps will enjoy exploring it after the meet, taking pics, and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Set your sights for Spring Nationals in Indianapolis or Pan-Ams in Orlando for 2018.

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