The reward at the end of the race

“No pics on the medal stand this year,” my fella proclaimed. I was appalled and told him so. “Please mom. Not this year,” he looked so forlorn yet so grown standing before me. 

“It’s a 7th and 8th place AT STATE! State. You are 15 swimming against 17 and 18 year olds. You made the podium dude. Don’t you dare be be ashamed.”

I knew he was disappointed. After pre-lims he and his coaches developed a strategy….he was ranked 8th in the IM. In lane 4 was an 18 year old that had broken the state record and swam the IM in 54 seconds. Fifty-four seconds for 4 strokes. David Murphy was his name. He was built like Adonis. I digress. 

My point was that my little dudes best time ever was 1:01:99. Even on his best day he wasn’t breaking into the top. Besides His eyes were set on another prize-under 27 seconds in the back. The 2 races were 5 races (less than 10 minutes) apart. He couldn’t go all out in both. So he and his coaches devised a plan–be technically perfect in the IM but save himself for the back. 

I hated that idea. It’s like walking a batter to avoid a big hit. It’s like throwing a fight. It’s like taking a dive. But I am no coach. Rarely does my guy get angry with me. But my opinion perturbed him a bit. He was quick to point out..”you aren’t a coach mom. I trust them. I want the back. I can’t do both. I know what I am doing and what I have to do. I got this.” And because he is 15, because he’s the athlete and because I want him to trust his coaches I simply nodded. After reminding him that I wasn’t his coach but I was his momma. 

He was nervous at the warm-ups. More nervous than I have ever seen him. He had been disappointed in his race during pre-Lims and was mentally trying to re-adjust—including stressing about which suit to race in. I uncharacteristically kept my mouth shut. This was his race-his fight. He had to do it his way. 

Race time. His coach was with him behind the blocks spraying him down with ice water and coaching him through every stroke of the race. I loved how invested his coach was. His investment made Colton trust him all the more. I don’t know what they were talking about but Colton looked intense and had a serious race face on. 

They announced his name for the IM. (I love that part!). The race started and they were off…Colton fought through the fly. He was beautiful in his bucket turn. His back was strong and he held his own in the Breast. The free was last. The race winners were already nearing the wall when Colton made the turn. I held my breath. At the end he touched in 7th. 

I don’t know if he laid off. I won’t ever ask. 

I barely had time to shift lanes before they were announcing his name again. Lane 8. The slowest lane. He had visions of surprising everyone by coming from behind out of lane 8. It was going to be an under-dog victory. This was it. This was the one. Swimmers take your mark. He pulled himself up to the ready position. Buzzzzz-and they were off. Colton excels at his back stroke start. He stays under water almost 1/2 the pool and comes up strong. 

Immediately I knew something was wrong. Colton popped right up. He’d barely made it off the wall! 

And just like that I knew the dream was done. He touched the wall 8th with a 29:28. His worst time of the season. I was crushed for him. 

He slipped. At the start. The touchpads were slick and he his foot slipped. He knew his race was done even as it started. He sacrificed a race to better the outcome of this one and he slipped. 

“No pictures on the podium this year mom.”  And though I am proud of him, though I am awed by his accomplishments and though I am humbled by his fighting spirit I also respect him. As an athlete he didn’t do what he wanted to do. 

I clapped and whooped when they called his name. I watched him break away from his posse with a wry smile to accept his medal. He got on that podium and smiled. He was a good sport. He handled himself like a man. So I honored his wishes and didn’t take any pictures.

But later that night he wasn’t a man-was my little fella. He showered away the day but put his state shirt right back on. He was proud to have made it here and I was proud of him for the same reason. Freshly scrubbed and tired he no longer looked like an imposing athlete or a man. He was my little guy. He climbed into my bed and snuggled up close while we gorged on take out pizza and HBO movies. 


me and my fella

That’s my medal. At the end of the summer swim season-after the hours of cheering and driving and packing snacks and towels, I am rewarded with a trip to Tifton, ga. Not a luxurious destination by any means. But I get to spend 2 nights with my big babies. One night encouraging them and one night congratulating or consoling them. Either way I win.

This year didn’t go as they had hoped. Big girl didn’t qualify for finals. She wa 10th. Top 8 swim for medals. I was proud of her and she was proud of herself but disappointed all the same. Big boy medaled lower than he’d hoped to and had made some tough choices that may be haunting him. 

But for me the weekend was a success. They had loads of fun. Both made some really good new friends–and I did too. They had great coaches who literally stood behind them all the way. I got to treat my daughter to a trip to atlanta. They both thanked me 100 times for the trip, the room, the costumes and even for being a part of the day. I also got to cuddle with both big babies. We made memories. 

They come to state for the chance to win gold. I come for the chance to snuggle with my bigs. I make the trip so that one day when they look back they will remember me-either in their greatest triumphs or with a hug when the race didn’t go their way. 


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