The bus picked us up at the junior high and headed for Suffern High School. The swim meet was at six, but we were going to get there at five to do a warm-up.
When we arrived, we headed straight for the locker room just like always. We all sat at different places in the room. Every time we each go to the same place. My place was in the far right-hand corner of the room where Jeff, Nate and I talk before we go to the pool. Up in the locker room we could smell the chlorine from the pool and I knew that the air in the pool area would be even worse.
After the warm-up we went to the bleachers, where John, the coach, was waiting with the roster of who would be swimming in the meet. I looked at the roster and my head spun. I was swimming in four events, all free-style! It was the 50 free, 100 free, 200 free relay, and the 400 free. It was the most I had ever swam in a race. It wasn't that I couldn't do it; it was just that it was my first real race and I was swimming more than people with three more years experience.
John called us into a group to give us a talk. He said that we all had the potential to win, and that we just had to get our turns down and keep our pace. Then the ref called up the swimmers for the first race. I didn't pay attention because I was in the fifth race, so I spent the time doing push-ups, sit-ups, and stretches.
"The fifth race will be the 50 free." The ref's voice boomed through the pool room as if somebody blew a horn at its deepest yet loudest pitch. I walked over to the sixth lane.
"Swimmers step up."
Listening to the ref, I got on the block along with my other two teammates. I could feel the grooves in the block underneath my feet. The other teams' three swimmers were on their blocks. I stood up there looking down the pool while the ref read off the rules of the race. The pool seemed far bigger now than it had in the warm-up or any practice and it seemed as if the world depended on this race.
"Take your mark, get set, GO."
The gun went off as the ref said "go," and all six swimmers dove into the water. When I hit the water, it felt like a breath of fresh air; the water was cool compared to the air in the pool area and made me go dizzy for a moment because of the change. All I thought of was getting to the other wall and back.
The race went by quickly. I went to the end of the lane, made my turn and headed down the lane for my last 25 meters. When I got to the end, I climbed out of the pool and listened to the ref read off the places.
"In 5th and 6th was North Rockland, 4th through 2nd was Clarkstown, and in first was North Rockland," he said. I had scored fourth, which made me feel good because I was in the slow lane and had been predicted to come in fifth or sixth.
When I went over to our team, everyone told me that I had done well in the race. John said I had gotten my best time yet. There were three more races, and then the divers went.
When the diving finished, the lane lines were again placed in the pool and the swimmers were allowed a ten-minute warm-up. The third race was the 200- meter free and I was to lead my lane in the race. The ref's voice once again rang through the air and the gun went off. I dove off the block with intense speed, heading for the wall and then back, but the race ended with my lane coming in last. There were three more races before my next race, the last.
The 400-meter ended up like the 200, with my lane coming in last. After the race the judges added up the score : Clarkstown 92 and North Rockland 108. Nobody seemed to be down about losing, and I wasn't either. I guess it was because there were still ten meets left and that I had gotten my best time. So I spent the time looking out the window wondering about the meets to come, wondering if I would do better, and if the team would win. I watched the cars race by me, trying to beat each other home. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.