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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Swim Team Superstar

When I was younger, my mom enrolled my brother and me in as many extra curricular activities as humanly possible.  By the age of 10, I had participated regularly in calligraphy lessons, chess lessons, piano lessons, cheer team, soccer team, bowling leagues, karate tournaments, tennis lessons, swim team, basketball team, children's choir, and dance lessons. This was on top of to the academic Kumon cram school, French lessons and summer Bible school.

Obviously my mom wanted us to grow into well rounded adults from all those experiences.  I think there was also probably a part of her that just needed a little break from the exhaustion caused by my constant kinetic energy (see Exhibit A below.)

Exhibit A:


For all these activities, I liked to participate and I liked to win, but I didn't like the ever present serious side of the competition.  My parents never pressured me to win at anything, and they were never upset with me for losing at anything. My mom came to all my games, tournaments, performances and competitions. She cheered me on louder than any other parent, but the only pressure I felt from her was to adhere to my obligations to a team or to a planned lesson. To her, it didn't matter if I was the best or if I was the worst as long as I participated like I had promised when I signed up. This was how my mom taught me that commitment was the most important thing to learn from these activities

Dance and Girl Scouts were the only things my mom let me quit before full participation. I quit both at the mature age of 8 after one day of each. I decided the Brownies were totally stupid because, who needs a macaroni necklace?  Certainly not me.  And later, I apparently decided that the shuffle step was stupid and promptly quit that before my mom paid for more lessons. As Logie and McPe will tell you, I totally did not need any dance instruction anyway because I am a natural born awesome dancer of total win - see video above. .  

What I didn't like about competitive events was when the parents and kids that were determined to win, lost.  I felt bad for them and I remember standing on the soccer field watching a dad yell at his daughter (who was the star player on the opposite team) for making a stupid mistake which she acknowledged and apologized for.  I was not able to understand what the big deal was or why he was mad at her.  I liked running around on the field and looking at the grass and picking up lady bugs, wearing my cute uniform, talking to my team mates, kicking the ball if it came to me, figuring out strategies and cheering when a goal was scored. So your daughter was called "offside"... who cares?  I had been called offside like 10 times in the same game already and I still had no idea what that meant. Weren't we all here at this soccer field for the oranges, string cheese and Capri Sun? Maybe if we're lucky, a Lampost Pizza Party? Just let us play some soccer so we can get to the snacks, Mr. Girl's Dad!  

I didn't like losing either, but since I was naturally pretty terrible at most sports, had no skill for the piano, couldn't beat anyone at chess and had the biggest bowling handicap in the entire league, I was used to it and it didn't bother me too much when I lost.  In solidarity, I cried whenever my team cried, but by the time I got home all I could remember was how fun it was to play the game. A perfect toe touch, bowling a Turkey or breaking away on the court with the ball were so much more thrilling than the actual win. 

As kids grew up and became better at what they did, all they seemed to care about was how to win more even if it meant the game was less fun. If  I enjoyed a sport or activity, I wanted to get better at it and be the best at it because I liked doing it. If that meant I would win, that was totally awesome.  If not, no big deal, we still get snacks, right?

My childhood zen attitude towards these activities began to falter with the only team sport I was actually really good at: Swim Team.

For my first few years, I didn't realize there was a competition to it at all.  I just liked swimming and I loved the breaststroke. For a while, I was the best at breaststroke in my age group. So long as I kept being put into breaststroke heats, I was happy.  I got good enough to be put into team relays and sometimes swam against older kids. At the end of my races they'd give me a blue or red ribbon which I threw towards my mom and ran to my towel to eat some nachos. It was perfect.  

As I got better, my competition got better.  I would swim as fast as I could, with my best stroke and still I'd come out in last place.  Normally, I'd be fine with blending into the team, being proud of my valiant yet fruitless effort and moving on, but as I got better at swimming, I began to feel pressure to win. Not from my parents, but from my coaches and team mates who were counting on me for something I  had considered a bonus instead of a goal.

Suddenly I was disappointing not only my team and coaches, but all those moms and dads in the crowd that didn't care how beautiful my frog stroke was.  I never felt this from my parents and the pressure from unknown strangers was suffocating.  My breaststroke wasn't keeping up with the competition so I was eventually moved into lower level heats in freestyle, backstroke, or the horrid butterfly stroke (which coincidentally, my brother was REALLY good at.)

I no longer enjoyed swim meets. 

Normally this might be where a kid tells his or her parents that they want to quit swim team, but since the only thing my parents asked of me from all these activities was that I stick to a commitment, I had to finish out the remainder of the new season  that they had just paid for.  So I did.  But I had to make some adjustments. 

If I was going to come in last, it was going to be to the sound of applause, cheers and hugs from my team mates.  

And how does one do that, you ask?

By choking on pool water. 

If I looked out of the corners of my eyes and saw that almost all the other swimmers had already come out of the pool and that I was dead last it meant it was time for action. 

At my next breath, I would turn my head for air and intentionally suck in a mouth full of water - urine and chlorine be damned.  As I did this I was sure to immediately tweak my stroke with a huge splash and sink a little bit and immediately bob distressingly to the safety of the divider lanes where I proceeded to spit up my mouth full of water and begin coughing loudly so that tears welled up in my eyes.  

My coaches would immediately run to the side of the pool and ask if I was ok and see if I needed any help. I had to pretend to be in such distress and so overwhelmed by coughing that I couldn't hear them until the last swimmer was out of the pool.  Once they were out, I looked at my coach with tears streaming down my face and stopped coughing while they encouraged me to finish my laps and get out of the pool.  

Which I did. Happily and slowly.

To the sound of a stadium filled with applause.  I was a hero.

I was smart enough to know I couldn't use this tactic often.  I only used it two or three times when the distance between me and the last swimmer was so great that I'd be getting out of the pool on my own anyway. It worked every time.

The only person who ever saw through my act was my brother and I'm grateful that he kept his suspicions private until my time on swim team was completely over.  When he was really little, I was obviously better than him at most things, but as we grew it was clear that he was naturally more adept at sports, music and strategy than I was. By the time I was pulling these shenanigans, I think part of him knew that I was just trying to make the best of an unhappy situation. He would know.  I simply perfected a strategy he thought up years before (see Exhibit B below.)

Exhibit B.

So the moral of the story is, if you can't beat 'em...there are a ton of other options.   True story.

Queen of Swimming, Miss Queen Universe.


  1. i always love your home videos! and it's clear your coach sucked. otherwise, you would've became the next olympic swim ninja. so you see? you did all you could do. the system failed you.

  2. hahahah my future in the Olympics was ruined!


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