I was assigned lane 2. If you read LANE 4 you know that the outside lanes are not the fastest. At state the discrepancy between lane 4 and Lane 2 can be minuscule or it can be gargantuan. In a sport measured by hundredths of seconds it’s amazing how narrow the margin between minuscule and gargantuan can be.
Some of my swimmers were terrified. You could see there little knees knocking as they stepped up to the blocks. The nervous ones would adjust their goggles, fix their caps, ask for their seed time or bounce from leg to leg in an attempt to quell their nerves. My heart pounded for each of them.
The truth, and they knew it, was that they weren’t the fastest. They had to swim their tails off to even make the finals. Most in my lane wouldn’t make finals.
Not a single one of the didn’t swim their hearts out. The gasps for breaths as they waited for the dive overs told me so. Their anxious voices asking, “what was my time?” told me so. Their times, seconds lower then the seed times told me so. I was moved time and time again at the fighting spirits I saw.
Not everyone can be first. In every race someone wins and someone touches the wall last. The glory and the praise goes to those that are fastest and strongest-that’s the nature of the world. But standing in lane 2 today I praise and glorify those athletes that don’t touch the wall first. I have a new found admiration for those that step up to blocks knowing thay they aren’t the fastest. Those athletes that have to work a little harder and settle for little less. The resolve, the grit and gumption, the pure will it takes to get up there and give it your all in a race that is already virtually decided is inspiring.
One tiny little fella chatted me up behind the block. He was teeny. He wore an itty-bitty bright pink speedo brief blazened with block letter that read EMBRACE THE BRIEF. He made me smile. “I gotta drop 5 seconds to make the cut!” 5 seconds in swimming is unheard of but he didn’t seem to know that. “Think you can do it?” I asked. “I can try,” he answered. I loved this kid. “Would someone cheering help? I am good at cheering,” he didn’t say anything for the longest time. I thought I’d crossed the line from enthusiastic to creepy swim mom.
The offical blue his whistle and the swimmers stepped up to the block. Before my cutie stepped up he looked at me earnestly and said,”I’d like that. I’d like you to cheer for me,” I nodded. I felt like I’d been entrusted with something important. Two short whistles blew and the swimmers took their mark.
Tiny dude didn’t drop 5 seconds. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. He about swam his brief off. He gave it all had. And, as promised, so did I. I cheered for all I was worth. I was proud to do it. I kept cheering even after the faster swimmers touched the wall. I cheered until he touched the wall. The race was over and he reached up to throw off his goggles and cap. “Did I do it?” He asked. How I wished I could tell him yes. “Not 5 but you did drop time. It was a great race!!!” He nodded made a victory fist before jumping out of the pool. He wouldn’t be swimming for medal in the afternoon but I hope he felt proud as he made his way back to his camp. He was in the race. He swam his race.
Not every winner gets a gold. I learned that today. Some winners just win by being in the race with the big boys.