Saturday, May 26, 2007

Moving Outdoors

With the 2006 – 2007 season over Hyack Masters bid farewell to Bonsor and this Monday show up at our summer digs at Central Park, an outdoor fifty meter pool. I’m not a big fan of outdoor pools in this part of the world since the weather isn’t good enough for most of the year. I include outdoors in June as less than perfect since the weather can still see the occasional cold front bringing rain come off the North Pacific. Admittedly I’m a rather delicate creature. As a boy we had only one outdoor meet each season, our end of year B.C. Open Championships, which was always held in the middle of June at the University of British Columbia because apparently some wag at our provincial swimming association thought it would be clever to take ‘Open’ literally. Every year the weekend of the Championships seemed to be marked by cloudy, cold weather and, on at least one occasion, heavy rains. The one which has stuck in my memory and I remember whenever I swim outdoors occurred when I was ten. That year it was particularly cold and occasional sprinkles outside had chased me into the showers inside. Not that I needed much chasing. As a skinny stick of a lad without an ounce of padding to keep warm I naturally had a tendency to warm up in the showers at meets – often for hours at a time. My coach, deciding he didn’t want me to race ‘well boiled’, sent in a senior National to fetch me out well ahead of my race. Clearly ticked off at being sent to baby sit and unwilling to have me hang around him to ensure I kept away from the showers Bill dropped me off directly at the heat assembly benches with dire threats not to leave before heading off to attend to his own affairs. This left me shivering in my sweats on the corner of the last bench waiting for my own event to be called. The worst part was fending off first officials then seniors asking why I was sitting there, and then suffering the questioning glances (and worse yet the giggles of the girls) of the 8&Us and 10&Us whose heats preceded mine. All somewhat interesting I suppose, but the real subject of this post is the first boy from my event to join me. After four years I knew virtually all my fellow competitors by sight, including most of those from Washington State and even a few from our neighbouring province Alberta. This swim meet was a reunion of sorts – an end of year championships all the top swimmers typically attended. But this kid I’d never seen before and he came straight to me, a big smile on his face, and the introduction, “My name is _____, what’s yours?” That actually threw me because in the small world of competitive swimming everybody knew my name, but I didn’t need to respond because he followed up his greeting with an immediate “Just kidding, I know who you are” and then plunked himself down beside me and proceeded to talk. And he kept talking. These Championships were, in fact, his first ‘A’ meet ever, having qualified because of a great swim meet the previous month where he improved in virtually all his strokes by leaps and bounds. He was as pleased as punch to just be in the Championships with no further expectations other than perhaps improving a little bit more on his times. This was one upbeat guy! Without more than a grunt or two of acknowledgment coming from me he happily babbled away until the progression of the heats meant he was a couple of benches away, and only then did he finally turn around and start conversing with his fellow swimmers in the first heat. I was seeded second and thus Lane 4 of the penultimate heat and so it took a few more minutes before I too started moving forward with my now familiar rivals. Our event finally called he trooped off but as he left he turned and actually waved at me, his big smile still plastered all over his face. The wave understandably brought some ribbing and teasing about my ‘boyfriend’ which I easily ignored. Frankly I was deep in thought trying to figure out what world he had come from. You would have thought he’d just set a national record the way he was acting.

Though not aware of it at the time this swim meet represented an important turning point in my swimming career. With most of my major rivals already gone to the next age group this was the meet I was supposed to shine in, and though I medaled in all the events I expected to I didn’t win even once. Thus this meet began what would be two years of sub par performances which, combined with other factors, would eventually chase me off the stage. A partial case of if I couldn’t win I didn’t want to swim anymore syndrome. I have no reason to recant this attitude now because it remains with me to this day, but if change were possible I’d be tempted to acquire the ‘sunshine’ nature of that boy who was so happy to be simply participating in the Championships those so many years ago. And if you share his outlook, if you are one of those who takes pleasure in working hard and doing your best regardless of where you actually rank in the end, then please allow me to say to you what I would like to have said to him if I could do it all over again, “Well done, you must be very pleased.” I just know he would have responded, “I am!!”

Likely with a lot more words though.


Damien said...

Well, I can honestly say that I probably was just like that boy. I remember when I first qualified for my first provincial championship in Ontario by just several tenths of a second in the 200m freestyle. I was just happy to be there and I was seeded in like the first heat. Then again, this meet featured people who were medalling at nationals and so the competition was pretty fierce. I never expected to win and even now, I don't put so much emphasis on it. I love to swim for the fun of it and because I love the rush that being in the water gives me. I will never forget that swim meet and how I felt so priveleged to be walking on the same pool deck as some of those highly ranked swimmers and I could actually say that I earned my way there through hard work and determination.

Joe said...

Get ready to eat bugs and whack heads with other backstrokers who can't tell if they are swimming straight. Let the fun begin!

I won't be there until Friday. Wifey has a couple of work functions to attend. See you Friday!

Peter said...

Terrific story. Hard to think back when I was a kid swimming (and I was sorry to be reminded that there is no longer an 8 and U division as I started out at age 7), but I think I would have been one of those chatterboxes as well!