I muscled through the pool, my chest heaving, as I stroked for the tile cross on the wall where my feet would hit in a flip turn.
I bent at the waist, threw my legs over my head, and pivoted as the balls of my feet hit tile. A powerful thrust from my bent knees and I rocketed off the wall, sucked in a quick breath, and barreled twenty-five yards to where Celeste fiddled with her goggles.
The two girls at our end of the pool took off at five second intervals.
If Celeste didn’t get her goggles fixed, I’d have to take her turn and skip a few precious gulps of oxygen.
One of our lane mates powered into the wall, stopped, and scooted to the side to make room for the next girl.
I heaved in a breath at the same time her wake sloshed back from the gutter and into my mouth. I sputtered, looked at Celeste. “You going?”
She shook her head, no, and I took off in her place.
At fourteen Celeste was a couple years younger and a couple seconds faster. My one-season stints at Shenandoah Pool in Miami, Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, and Martin County High School in Stuart proved paltry stacked against Celeste’s swimming pedigree. She dogged workouts, then whipped out her rusty one hundred percent for meets to best me one hundred percent of the time.
So. Not. Fair.
At lap four of the next set, Celeste’s fingertips swatted my toes.
I gritted my teeth and sped up. I could ignore the first swipe, but if she hit me again, I’d have to stop and let her pass.
No way should she have caught me already, even if she was swimming full out. She must have skipped the twenty-second gap she was supposed to take or she axed twenty-five yards by turning around in the middle of the pool.
I ramped up to sprint speed. I hated being passed by a freshman.
Our rivalry was plain dumb. We both swam in the lane along the gutter with two or three others—the dregs of the team.
At times like this I wondered why I’d gone to all the trouble of tracking down a team, then commuting five days a week, forty minutes each way.
Had Dad’s passion that drove him to the Olympic trials in backstroke slipped into my genes? Or did part of me still hope I could please my unpleasable father?
Perhaps both. And I wanted what I’d found on the Martin County High School team. Friendships were fostered during the hours on the team bus. We cheered for each other at meets. My hard-earned slot as the fastest fifteen-year-old female made me feel like I counted.
Halifax Swim Association offered none of those feel-good perks. I swam with the big fish now.
I’d stuck it out for a semester because I got hooked on shaving seconds off my times from meet to meet like a dieter dropping multiple pounds at a pop.
Last week, New Smyrna Beach High School announced they’d start a swim team spring semester. A shiver of excitement ran through me. I’d be in top condition at the start of the high school season!
Celeste smacked my feet, harder this time.
I stopped swimming and stood up. Fine. Knock yourself out.
Celeste hot-dogged around me.
While she vacillated between slacking and sprinting, I stayed on her tail the rest of the set—just to prove I could. As much as I hated to admit it, Celeste’s provocation probably had as much to do with my progress as a coach I revered more than my parish priest.
I gritted through the last quarter lap. I glimpsed a tadpole junior higher swimming parallel on the opposite gutter. I dove under, hoping the guys in Lane 3 who tore up the water at the Junior Olympics wouldn’t notice who came in last.
Those boys boasted pecs and biceps that made football players look like wannabe athletes. They salivated over swimming scholarships colleges served them on a tray like desserts. A girl in Lane 7 didn’t garner a glance. It wasn’t that they were too focused on their futures to flirt. Like choosing the best university, they picked from the menu of girls who swam fast.
After practice in the locker room I stripped off my suit and checked to make sure the blue jean patches I’d sewn to the butt still held. Maybe my shoddy swim couture contributed to my lack of social clout on the team. So be it. I didn’t have time for a job to keep myself in pristine swimwear.
Hot water sprayed my shoulders as I stirred a packet of unsweetened lemonade Kool Aid into the shampoo in my palm. I could ward off green swimmer’s hair, but how much control did I have over my swimming career? I didn’t know whether I’d inherited Dad’s physical and mental capacity to excel. A year and a half more of training full-out and I’d know.
I dressed and poured rubbing alcohol into each ear to avoid itchy swimmer’s ear, a fungus that stalked me and most swimmers.
I stepped into the glare of the lights glinting off the puddles we’d left on the deck.
The warmth of what ifs steamed up from the pool into the cool of the night.
My sneakers squeaked as I headed for the car and the long drive home in the dark.
I swam through my junior and senior years, double workouts during high school swim seasons. I trained with a broken ankle, then a surgery to remove pins, dragging a succession of fiberglass casts in my wake. The longest needle I’d ever seen shot cortisone into an overworked shoulder.
Though my times inched downward, I graduated ten seconds too slow for a free ride to college, or even a date with guy who got one.
That hunger—though it veered from swimming—has never left me.
I’ve chased Jesus with similar single-mindedness much of my life. And as a result, my soul swims in the satiety of loving and being loved by God. I wallow in peace, a clear conscience, and satisfying work.
I feel greedy for wanting more.
But hunger is part of who I am. I write as though I might one day pull down a contract with a big six publisher, join the fraternity of five percent of authors who eke out a living with their words, as though a Pulitzer might be possible for me.
Today I temper that hunger by fanning my father’s swimming medals across my desk—red, white, blue, and yellow ribbons fading, in varying degrees of decomposition. Tiny plumes of dust rise from the fabric when I finger them. The bronze, silver, and gold medals are so etched and tarnished I can barely read the years.
Yearning may always live in me, but publishing contracts, money, and fame can only end up on the desk with Dad’s medals.
I want my words to count in somebody’s forever.
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