When my alarm went off at 5:30 am on Saturday, my initial thought was how ridiculous this plan was. We were loading up both kids and all of Nathan’s toddler accoutrements to drive 80 miles each way to watch Sarah Kate swim for two minutes in the GCAAL Jr. Championship swim meet (um, yeah, it seemed like a good idea two months ago). Jr. Champs is billed as an event to give swimmers who don’t normally medal a chance to shine (which, of course, is code for “a meet for the slower swimmers”).
Now don’t get me wrong – Jr. Champs is great. When your kid consistently finishes in last place, however, there’s pretty much no way she’s getting a medal unless there are as many medals are there are kids in the event, which isn’t the case for 8-year-old girls swimming 25 yard freestyle and backstroke, even if the meet is 80 miles away.
Sarah Kate has always understood that she is swimming against herself, but she still has a competitive spirit, and I always feel that she needs a goal to encourage her to keep improving. So, with that in mind, I told her on Thursday that if she either beat her backstroke time of 40 seconds or broke a minute on freestyle (her previous best was 1:02), that she could get her ears pierced.
I thought both goals were easily obtainable – particularly the sub-1:00 freestyle, as she’s now doing what could loosely be described as a dive, rather than sinking like a rock on her starts. She had a meet on Thursday evening, and I had plans to take her to Claire’s on Friday.
Except it didn’t work out that way.
Her backstroke time was her worst of the summer – 46 seconds. I could tell by the halfway point of the freestyle that she wasn’t going to make that, either (she finished in 1:04). I chalked it up to a bad night/tired girl/full stomach from the giant Subway chicken bacon club she ate, and reassured her that she could try again on Saturday.
We made the 80-mile trek to the meet and set up our tent with my friend Dawn’s family, as her son was also swimming. Sarah Kate was swimming in lane 1, which was, unfortunately, inaccessible to spectators. I set up behind a barricade at the finish end of the lane with my camera and my yelling voice for the backstroke, wondering if she would even be able to hear me cheering for her.
At that point, I began to worry. I told her that she had one more chance, while Mr. Andi used reverse dad psychology and said that he didn’t think she would be able to do it. I even snuck off at one point to inquire with one of the coaches about whether or not she thought Sarah Kate might be better off to just swim backstroke for the freestyle (perfectly legal, but highly unusual, although she did it once before). I didn’t mention it to Sarah Kate, and left the decision in the coaches’ hands.
Mercifully, the interim heats passed quickly and before long it was time for her to swim again. Dawn’s son was in the heat immediately preceding Sarah Kate’s, so our entire crew headed inside to watch. Both kids were to swim in lane 1, so Dawn, her other son, and her mother set up in the bleachers, while Mr. Andi, Nathan, Dawn’s husband and I parked ourselves at the finish end of the lane.
I was nervous.
Sarah Kate false started (or lost her balance and fell in – the details of how she came to be in the water are sketchy and still up for debate), causing the other swimmers to jump and, unfortunately, most swam half the length of the pool before they could be persuaded that, indeed, the heat had not yet started and they needed to stop. In order to give them a rest, the heat was moved back so we had a few more minutes to wait.
When the heat began, I snapped off a few photos and yelled like crazy. The wall clock wasn’t functioning, so we couldn’t see an official time, but Mr. Andi was timing her using his iPhone. As she crossed the halfway point, I checked Mr. Andi’s phone and began to yell louder. She hit the flags and I could see that she was going to make it. I screamed even louder. The head coach, Cathy Hudson, had run down to her lane, and along with two of the other coaches, was excitedly cheering her on. As she hit the wall, a chorus of cheers erupted from the coaches and our group. Never mind the fact that she was a full fifteen seconds behind the next slowest swimmer.
She swam the freestyle in 51 seconds!
She staggered out of the pool, clearly exhausted. Coach Meredith handed her a button that said “I’m a GCAAL Jr. Champs Winner” and Coach Hudson picked her up in her arms and handed her over the barricade to me. I carried her, wet swimsuit and all, out of the pool area. We looked up her freestyle time at the Jr. Champs from last year – 1:36. I was as proud as if she’d just won a gold medal at the Olympic Games.