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Freestyle Final
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My father always wanted me to win.  At anything.  School, sports.  He wanted me and my sisters to shine at something, anything, and mostly, we proved to be average and potentially gifted children, though not too much evidence was apparent.  Not yet.

But the summer of my 12th year, was the summer that Lycra swim suits emerged, the tight fabric fitting swimmers like a second skin.  All that summer, I'd worked out as all my teammates did in the old fashioned Speed-o's, regular old nylon, baggy in front.  But we didn't know to think about drag.  We just swam.

And all that summer, my father had been giving me pointers about my freestyle stroke.  Across the street at our neighbor's pool, he gave me lessons on how to slice the water, to move through it as if I were integral to the H2O itself.  We did flip turn drills.  Over and over, back and forth.  I tried to take his words and put them in my body.  I tried to make him happy.

I grew up swimming, starting early, and swimming every summer.  Every Wednesday night and Saturday morning for weeks in the summer I got up on the blocks and dove off into a race I would likely not win.  There were so many good swimmers in my age group, and I was one of several good freestylers.  I was maybe number three, sometimes.  I had to fight to keep my spot on the relay, which we always won because Jennifer was on our team.  She was the type of swimmer I can still see when I close my eyes, moving exactly through the water as if she were made of only the water itself.

But the day of the All-Orinda meet, Jennifer was not in the finals.  Another swimmer from my team was as was a powerhouse from Moraga Valley.  Sue was tall, strong, fast, worrisome.  My stomach ached.  My stomach roiled.  Sometime before the final,  my father came to get me from the team area and we walked down to the Lycra suit vendor's booth.

He bought me a tight, black Lycra suit, one that I had to suck in and almost shuck on, the snaps at the shoulder the only way in and out.  It was so tight, that swimmers walked around with the snaps unsnapped, needing to breathe in between races.

Swimmers have to wait a lot.  Heat after heat, event after event.  6 and unders, 7-8, 9-10s.  Race after race after race.  Finally, there we were the 11-12 freestyle final.

I was up on the blocks, looking at the crowd who had anticipated this event.  The stands were packed, the announcer announcing our names.  I was sure my heart was moving the Lycra, an up and down, up and down of nerves.  I looked out and saw my father, standing at the end of the pool in the crowd, his hat on, his stopwatch in his hand.

the race is only one thing for me, even back when I could remember it better.  It's about the flip turn.  Sue and I and my teammate were tied until the turn, but I channeled my father, I heard his words, I flipped as I was taught and then in the second 25, I was ahead.  I was winning.  I was wearing my new Lycra suit and I was winning the race.

28.3, two tenths off the record.  But I won.  I won for me, but I won for my dad.  I finally had done something right.

If I'd known then that there were only two more full years for him to see me swim, I would have tried harder in subsequent years.  I would have worked out harder and never given up in the distance races.  I would have been better at school and not hated him so much.

But I didn't know, and the summer I was 15, he died, having missed all the meets that year.

So I often go back to that moment on the blocks.  It's summer and sunny.  The crowd is going wild.  I'm in my new suit looking out at my father.  Everything is possible.


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Take Your Mark...

Moraga and Orinda are hotbeds now. Your time was fast for an 11-12 girl back in the day. I was an IM'er and distance freestyler in a summer league further back in time. You earned the suit (I thought the snaps were going to come undone; you set me up) and did your dad proud, but what a bittersweetness overlying the memory.


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I likely should have

I likely should have explained that the suit was painful (without the snaps undone).  No untoard suit action once in the pool!

Yes, that was a good time, and I think I got down to 27.8 somewhere when I was 14, but that was it.  And never a first place like that race, so the memory sticks.

Thanks for the comment.



Jessica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com