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A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Travesty Medals

Yesterday I did something crazy. I swam in the Olympics. I actually got two silver medals: a silver for the 100 meter Breaststroke, and another for the 50 meter Butterfly. Sounds cool, doesn't it?

The day was muggy with rainclouds, which subsequently opened up on us about a third of the way through the meet. While in the water it wasn't unpleasant, but the rain grew chill while we were waiting to compete. I understand a few people went to wait for their heat in the heat of the women's bathroom.

I sized up my competition. There were a few ladies who looked lean and leathery. Most belonged to swimming clubs and had clearly been at this racing thing for years. There was a 98-year-old lady and her 70-something daughter. There was a lady who had suffered a stroke eight years ago and hadn't been expected ever to walk again. I figured I could take them.


Only that day I found out I would be trying to do the fly a whole extra length than I'd ever done it before. I was starting from the block, which I'd never been allowed to do previously (never having raced before and the lifeguards won't let you use the blocks if you aren't racing), making my start much higher off the water. I had only started swimming regularly in November. For half of December and half of January the pool was closed. I was out of state for another week of that. 

What was I thinking?

So I was woefully, laughably unprepared. You might ask why I even signed up. I certainly asked myself that when I was up on the block a tad late because I'd run back to leave my glasses on my bag. Yeah. I thought I was barking mad about then. It was a what-the-heck moment. It was a gigantic leap of faith moment. I was praying like a freak that I'd at the very least finish and not look too much like a rank noob.

The gun went off and we dove in. Immediately my goggles went wonky so I could only see out of one eye. I also forgot about long strokes and gliding. It was four laps of rapid, tiny strokes that got me nowhere slowly. I'd been skunked by women almost all way older than me. And that was my easy race. 2:48:38. I must have looked like a basking manatee.

There were only three heats between my 100 B and my 50 Fly. I went around and got my bathrobe and commiserated with my son (the only one of the family who came). But all too soon they were calling my last heat. 

I hobbled up onto that block, which suddenly looked like the high dive. I knew I was in for trouble. The heat before mine had been full of women who looked like swans gliding through the rain-pocked water. I knew I wouldn't look like that. I prayed to at least make it back to the wall without scratching or disqualifying...or dying like a drowning elephant.

The gun shot drove me into the water like a freight train plunging off a bridge. I immediately felt my goggles come mostly off my head. Great. The unfamiliar height completely threw off any semblance of a decent stroke I'd once had even on the first, regularly-practised leg. When I flipped around for the second leg I got a mouthful of water and that was it. Away went the smooth stroke of head in, head out. Now I was just thrashing back to the blocks like a manatee, which had been scored in the back by a boat propeller. It was all dogged persistence just to reach the wall.

I could hear the crowd cheering me on. I knew it was me because everybody else was already at the blocks, waiting for me to drag my sorry fat rear in. They must have been so justified in their calm hauteur of before. They even asked me if I needed help hauling myself out of the pool. Yeah. Train wreck. I had to wait around for a while before I could get one of the swimmers to fetch my goggles. I had plenty of time to rehash all my mistakes.

I went over to check out the times. 1:52:34. My 50 fly was only 7-something seconds faster than the 98-year-old woman's backstroke.

So it was with great trepidation that I went to the office to claim my two silver medals. I hadn't earned silver. I'd only gotten them because there were only two women in my age group in both of my heats.

So what did I learn?

Don't let age fool you. These women were sleek and well-trained. They knew their stuff. Sure with age they'd slowed down a little. But it was very little. I hadn't trained. I was a good 70 lbs overweight and new to the racing scene. I expected prayer to carry me through, when I should have put a year's worth of practice in before trying this stunt. I can't ask God to make up for my lack of practice. He did, however, do what I asked. He got me safely to the finish line of both races.

For next year I can only improve. Maybe I'll have practised enough to earn the medals I get. Maybe my lungs will work better and I'll have actually prepared for the race. Maybe I'll be able to try my entries from the block sometimes. Maybe I'll have dropped a few stone so there's less to haul through the water. I'm hoping to cut off at least a minute from both times.

I can only think, of this race, that it was like those men in Shakespeare's play, Henry 5, as they stood around listening to King Henry making his Crispin's Day speech:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
    And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'  

and later:

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
    Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

I did it! It was crazy and sloppy and I looked like a rank noob, but I DID IT. I and God.

So. Nowhere but up.

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