Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Best $300 We Ever Spent

The Idea
For just over $100 you can put your kid on a swim team. 

At first my girls were all for it. 
New bathing suits? Swimming every day? Getting medals and trophies? Yes!! Then came....

The First Practice  
Naomi (5 years old) puttered across the pool three times (with a kickboard) while dozens of burly 6-year-olds paddled passed her, around her, and over her. As she was lapped over and over by these other kids, I watched her lower lip start to tremble and knew that her goggles were filling with tears.
Finally I couldn't take it any more and pulled her out of the madness. She collapsed in my arms, wet and lifeless, like I had just pulled her from a shipwreck. 

Sophie (almost 9) also quit halfway through the first practice, telling me that she "couldn't get any air" and that "this water was different than the water in other pools."

Syrena (almost 9) was the only one who made it through the first practice. 

I told them, this is the first practice! It will get better!

More Practices
After a few days the girls realized I was really serious about this swim team thing and that going to swim practice was not debatable.  The excuses of stomach aches, fevers, nausea, polio, etc. did nothing to sway their cruel mother from taking them every day. Their only hope of deliverance was if there were a thunderstorm and swim practice was cancelled. To them, the sound of thunder was a balm.

The practices were grueling. It was not easy for my willowy girls to build up the endurance and strength to swim lap after lap. I sat on the sidelines, biting my fingernails while watching their slender arms rise and fall over the water, looking like serene windmills amidst the other kids' thrashing turbines. 
When each practice was over, their pale, doomed faces were replaced with the rosy cheeks, weak smiles and the shining eyes of someone who knows they've just passed successfully through hell and survived.

We were making progress.

But there were still the mysterious MEETS that everyone talked about. 
"What are the meets like?" My daughters asked me. 
"How will we know when to jump off the starting blocks?" 
"How do we swim in a straight line when we are doing the backstroke?" 
I had no clue. The world of swimming was just as new to me as it was to them. I was still trying to grasp my new swimming vocabulary: freestyle, heats, pool deck, starting block, butterfly, etc.

"Just keep your keep your arms and legs moving," I told them, "and don't breathe the water."

Sophie and Syrena holding hands for moral support

The First Meet
The first meet arrived. How the tears spilled! How the stomaches churned! On the way to the pool we passed children in swimming suits gripping their parents' legs and shrieking in terror "I don't want to get in the water!!" they cried. 
My kids were no different. Naomi and Sophie were falling apart. Getting them to the water was like pushing a cat into a bathtub. Only Syrena held herself together with the steady, pale resolve of someone who is being forced to tight-rope across an active volcano.

But the more I witnessed this anxiety the more I was convinced that this was one of the best things I could ever do for my teach them that they can do things that absolutely terrify them.

When we entered into the pool area someone was passing out swim caps.
"What are those?" Naomi asked.
"Swim caps," I said.
"What are they for?" she asked.
"I don't know," I said truthfully. "I think you put them on your head and they help you swim faster."
"Put one on my head," she said. 

The girls watched the process of their first meet with sober faces and wide eyes. People were everywhere. It was noisy. They had to crouch on the pavement in their wet suits on their wet towels for long periods of time with nothing to do. Talk about miserable.

But slowly they started to catch on to how everything worked. They found that, even though nervous electricity was pumping through their veins, they could make it across the pool without dying.  Other swimmers said "hello" to them. The cheering, the screaming, the triumph of their fellow teammates became contagious.

Meanwhile, I waited anxiously for Naomi to finish her first race. She was still making her way to the end while the rest of the swimmers in her heat were finished and drying themselves off. When finally she reached the edge she climbed out of the water and the first thing she gasped was, "You were right, Mom. This cap DOES make me go faster!"

That day all three of them finished last in every race they swam in, but I felt the day was a success, nonetheless. They now understood what what to expect, it was not as bad as they thought it was going to be. I watched the hope glimmer in their eyes as they realized this actually might be kind of fun after all. The spark had been lit. 

Their confidence grew after that. It is wonderful how simply gaining familiarity with something can give you so much confidence. They continued to make friends.... 
Sophie, Syrena and Melanie
Naomi and Anna

And they continued to improve. And since they were just beginners it was easy for them to find ways to improve....just do what the coach tells you to do!

With every improvement--a slight turning of the wrist, a cupping of the hand, a striaightening of the arms--their times got better. They learned that they are not racing against other kids, but they are racing against their old times. They are racing against themselves. 

Annelise and Naomi

Naomi and Isaac, my kids favorite coach. I like him cause he looks like my brother.

Practices came and went. More meets came and went. Confidence sprouted in my kids like dandelions in a field. But soon there came the...

For my girls, there was constantly something new to be amazed about in this wild world of sports. For instance, to get the kids psyched about the Championships, the coaches braided the girls' hair, and painted their nails the team color (purple).  What did they do to the boys? They shaved their heads. 

The Championships were held at UNC's Koury Natatorium. 
Koury Natatorium (insert choir voices here)

The water is 14 feet deep. Just looking into water that deep terrifies me.
The morning of the Championships Syrena selected her "Keep Calm and Carry On" t-shirt to wear over her swimming suit. 

The girls were excited, but still a little nervous. 
It didn't help that on the way down to the pool another swimmer threw up in the stairwell. 

But this was Champs. And they were very different girls from the trembling white-faced children that I took home after that first swim practice two months ago. Now look at them: 

Syrena and Sophie waiting for their turn at Champs. I'm here, too, in the corner. One happy mamma!

Sophie diving in for her warm-up lap

Naomi waiting for her time to shine

Here is Naomi getting ready to swim her freestyle at Champs. Her coach, Rebecca (who made it to the Olympic Trials this summer) is sitting beside her. Not sure who the tiger woman is.
Naomi's name is at the bottom. How fun to have your name in lights when you are only five! 
Naomi getting ready to dive. 
Later Naomi does the backstroke
I love this photo of Sophie. She's got that "I'm gonna win" look. And win she did! This girl won her heat in backstroke!
Naomi "diving."

Sophie getting ready to dive 
This is a photo of Syrena on the starting block. You can't see her because the flags are in the way. But you can see her cool swim coach Isaac.

Sophie swimming the breast stroke. She is in the third lane.

Syrena swimming the breast stroke--on her way to victory!

Do you see the #1 after Syrena's time?! 
Sophie and Syrena surprised us all (and themselves!) by winning their heats. Sophie won in backstroke and Syrena won in breast stroke. Each girl was stunned as she staggered out of the water and the ribbon judge gave them "Heat Winner" ribbons. Scott said he heard Syrena's elated scream from way up in the stands. 

Naomi was a little disappointed that she didn't win a ribbon until we reminded her that when Sophie and Syrena were her age they couldn't even swim. That cheered her up. 

So all is well that ends well. As you can see by the length of this post I am pretty darn proud of them. I don't think I could have done what they did.  They conquered their fears and learned they could do much more than they ever thought possible. Swim team has been one of the hardest and best things they have ever accomplished. I am so proud of them. Yes, my girls, you can do hard things.

I would have never believed it at the beginning, but they tell me now that they can't wait to be on the swim team next year!


  1. YAY! I love that story so much. (I may have cried.) Congratulations to your littler swimmers!

  2. I love the ridiculously happy end smiles, but I shared their anxiety in the beginning!

  3. I swam. Did you know? It's a great sport. I mean, not only are you terrified, you're practically naked to boot. There you are, on a block in front of cold water, nervous as all get out, and your meagerly covered bum lifts up into the sky for all to see. Luckily, this whole notion didn't occur to me until I was older and I spent a fair part of my life before the age of 17 prancing around in a swimsuit. The whole time I was reading I could smell the chlorine, hear the echos, the splashes and remembered leaning over the starting block to scream "pulll!" or "kiiickkk!" in my teammates face as the headed out on their next lap. So, if you need to 'talk shop', you let me know. Swim caps must be embraced. Alright, I'll stop now. Good for your girls, though. Tough stuff.

    1. Nicole, I am so glad you commented, because YES I knew you were a swimmer and I actually thought about you a lot as we went through this whole swim team experience. I hadn't considered the "naked" part of it, but now that I think of it in that way it does make things seem a whole lot worse. i remember you once said you were nervous about something (can't remember what) and you said it made you feel like you were on swim team again. I thought about that a lot, trying to "feel" what my daughters must be going through while they were up on the blocks (Since I have never even stood on a diving block before). I would love to talk to you sometime about this, of course. Maybe at book club next week. Also, tell me if you get this message. I wonder how blogger sends it to you or if you have to just check back on my blog to read it.

  4. Yay for all three girls! That is soooo great that they made it through their first season. And wow, winning to boot? I can't even imagine! What a brave and trusting group of gals! Nice work, Chelsea!

  5. My mom and dad love to tell the story about me crying through my first soccer game. I hated it. But they wouldn't let me quit and I went on to play soccer into adulthood and LOVE it. Hurray for parents that encourage kids through their fears!! So proud of your wonderful girls!!

    1. I am glad you mentioned that. I would love to hear about your first soccer game.

  6. Way to go to all of you! It is hard watching your kids struggle through things, even when you know it is what is best for them. I am so glad it turned out so positive for all of them! And I love the story you've created here rather than just saying "My kids were on swim team this year." It is so fun to read your creations Chels.

  7. Wonderful mother! Great entertaining blog! Keep up the good work! And about the bats in your bathroom.....goodness gracias that is horrific!