It was my first year of varsity swimming. I was a sophomore, a little late to start a high school sport by most standards. I don't remember if it was a Tuesday or a Wednesday or how much yardage we actually did but that day I learned a very important lesson.
I was still tired and sore from practice the day before and the pool was not where I wanted to be. Nevertheless, there I was. The coach had quite a reputation. Some people hated him but others said that he was the best swim coach they ever had. Everyone agreed he had really tough practices.
I did a flip turn and slowly pushed off the wall. I hoped he wasn't looking. Each arm ached as I dragged it out of the chlorine. I looked to the lanes next to me; everyone else was getting out. My goggles were starting to fog up and I couldn't see very much. I still had a 500 left to go (twenty laps).
I wanted to stop. Every muscle was screaming. I glanced up during a breath to see that all the other swimmers had left the deck and headed to the locker room. I kept swimming. I looked again. The coach was still pacing the deck. I noticed that the next swim team had arrived and were standing at the end of the lanes. They were waiting for me to get out. After a few laps they jumped in every lane except mine. I figured that this was the perfect excuse for me to get out. I stopped in the shallow end.
"Are you done?" the looming figure on the deck asked. I could say yes and get away with it. The coach would never know that I had not finish all my laps. But I would.
"No," I answered, fighting back the tears. I dunked my head under and pushed off the wall. I had another 300 yards to go and I did them all. The oxygen rushed into my lungs when I finally stopped. My body was limp and I had trouble hoisting myself out of the pool but I was done and that was all that mattered. The coach was standing by the locker room. I grabbed my towel.
"Good practice," he said. I summoned up all my energy but all I could answer was a mumble. I realized something important that day. I made the commitment to join the team and I was going to stick with it. No longer could I weasel and whine my way out of things like I had when I was younger. I think back to that day a lot now, especially because I am a better swimmer, and remember how I got that way. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.