When The Girl came home in the spring proclaiming that she wanted to be on the swim team, I didn’t quite know what to say. The head coach was the P.E. teacher at her school and had apparently talked it up the week before registration. Initially, I didn’t even mention it to Mr. Andi because I was sort of hoping the fever would pass. A week or so went by, though, and she was still bringing it up, so we decided to talk to the teacher/coach. She knows Sarah Kate well and she was very encouraging. I was convinced, Mr. Andi was convinced, and The Girl was excited. I figured we would skip the meets and maybe she’d get a little better at swimming. I have taken her to the pool myself in the past, but with the baby it’s much tougher, so I figured we would come out ahead even if it were just extra exercise.
The first couple of weeks of practice were rough. She was placed in the 7-10 year old training group, which put her way behind the curve – partly because of the cerebral palsy and partly because of her age. She had lost a lot of the confidence she’d had in the water since last season, and to top it all off, many of those early days were marred by thunderstorms at practice time. They don’t skip practice in a storm, choosing instead to do land-based exercises which weren’t much fun for her (mostly because she couldn’t do a lot of them). When they were able to swim, she was always in lane 1 (where she would stay for the duration of the season) with the wall in easy reach at all times. The coaches worked patiently with her to get her over the fear that had suddenly gripped her when she saw how long a 25 yard lane actually is, and mom sat nervously on the bleachers, trying to distract myself with caring for her baby brother.
At morning practice on the day of the first meet, she decided she wanted to swim in the meet that evening. It was an intrasquad practice meet, and all of the swimmers were placed on either a yellow or blue team. Since we had registered late and never intended to do meets, anyway, I had not ordered her a team suit. Although I knew it wasn’t absolutely necessary, I drove to the local supplier and – miracle! – they had one suit in stock in the team pattern that happened to be her size. I shelled out my $50, not knowing if she would ever wear it again, in the hope that just having the suit would help her to feel more a part of the team.
We arrived at the meet and I felt completely unprepared. I didn’t know what was going on and it showed. Her coach asked me which lane to put her in – 8 or 1. I knew that lane 1 would have the wall, but she could duck under the lane 8 rope and have steps available to climb out, so I chose 8. Big mistake. Complete and total meltdown ensued, because she knew there would be no wall for security. I pried her off of me, tried to calm her down, and walked myself and the baby back over to the coach to get the lane changed. Sigh.
Much like the races she has done in the past, that first swim meet was bittersweet. I was so proud of her for trying, but it’s very hard to watch her being so far behind the other kids. She stuck it out, though, and finished both events – 25 yard backstroke in 1:26.38 and 25 yard freestyle in 1:34.89. She was so far behind in the backstroke that she actually ended up having a lot of extra people cheering for her. My belief is that some of the parents were sitting there wondering why the next heat wasn’t starting, looked around and thought “Holy Cow! There’s a kid still out there! I hope she doesn’t drown! Go Girl Go!” Another bonus (for me, anyway) was that a young boy in the event before hers had a meltdown in the middle of the pool and had to be rescued by one of the coaches. Yes, I did feel bad for him, but I considered it a victory that Sarah Kate wasn’t That Kid.
At the end of the day, Sarah Kate found herself on the yellow team – the winning team. She did a little trash talking the next day at practice, and I was happy with what she had already achieved. Little did I know at the time, but she would do more this summer than I dreamed possible.