The Danger Zone

by blackcattarot

“Again!”

I launched from the block.  Hitting the water, I went dove deep, all the while kicking my legs.  As I hit the surface, I entered the zone.  The zone where I heard nothing, thought nothing.  But I sure felt something…

It was simple;  I had done it thousands of times before.  Pull, pull, pull, breathe.  Pull, pull, pull, breathe.  And yet, while I was in the water, I knew I could not come up.  I couldn’t make myself do it.  It was like a mental block.  When athletes forget how to swing a bat or jump a hurdle.  Something that comes so natural can all of a sudden leave you.  Your muscle memory goes blank, and, essentially, you’re out of luck.

I couldn’t come back up because that meant I would have to swim another stroke, race down the pool, do a kick turn, make my way back, and hear Coach tell me “Again” yet another time.  I was exhausted.  We had been at it for three hours that day, starting at 5:00 AM.  Training for the big event took countless hours of practice, as Jessie, a former gold medalist, told me.  “You better be prepared,” she said, “It’s grueling, especially for women.”  It is a cliché to say it, but I had been preparing all my life, ever since I hopped in our community pool one summer and everyone was stunned that I was a natural.

But thousands of hours of practice couldn’t prepare me for this moment.

I was aware that the world was completely silent to me.  That’s what I loved most about swimming;  you could get lost in the pool, lulled into meditation by the rhythm of the motions and the sound of the water in your ear.  I actually hated it when people stood along side of the pool and cheered.  It took my focus away.  People hushed when I was in the pool, or at least my team did.

And in that moment, I feared for myself.  I wished I heard something.  I was slipping away.

Someone grabbed me.  It was Christina, who had been swimming backstroke a few lanes over from me.  She pulled me up, and I gasped for breath.  Finally, sound started to come back.  I was both relieved and disappointed.  One more stroke, one more kick turn, one more length of the pool.  One more “Again!”  I would never escape.  And yet, I knew I would never stop loving it.

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