Water by nature, is very temperamental. Sometimes our experience with it is simply magical, while at other times agonizing; just as water can be pleasurable, yet quickly turn deadly. Deep down, every swimmer wants the water to like them. They pray that the water will support their dreams and carry them forward. There are always hopeful expectations as the final breath is taken before the plunge.
Usually after a race, the water and I understand each other, but as I hauled my drained body out of the pool I was left wondering what had come between us. We were supposed to be on good terms; old friends. I had come in full of fond memories of the good times, literally, but instead endured the forced, bitter, awkwardness of a contemptuous ex-lover. It felt as if the water had conspired to choke me when I needed air most, sink me, and flow against the direction in which I intended to move. “Just a morning swim, thats just the jetlag, you haven’t raced short course in a while” I thought in an optimistic effort to rationalize. I glanced back at the pool in disbelief. “How could I make things right between us?” I wondered, as I realized how little time there was left. In six hours, in the finals we would meet again.
Exhausted, holding my swim cap, goggles and shoes in one hand and clutching my sweats under my other arm, with painfully tired, aching legs, I navigated the hallways and stairs over to the athlete’s preparation area that contained another Olympic size pool and diving well, my powerful heartbeat loud in my ears and my chest heaving with each satisfying breath the entire way.
“There must be easier ways to make a living.” I remember thinking frustratedly along the way, as my agitated mind touched on some of the passing fads of passionless hobbies and lax, amateurish ways of making a living that I held in disdain for the commitment lacking, one hundred percent half-assed way in which they were done. In my mind they stood in such stark contrast against this brutally honest, dedicated way of earning your livelihood with your guts.
I peeled off my racing suit and slipped into my training briefs, replaced my cap and goggles, then dove into the water again for a heart to heart chat with it in an effort to make up. However this water was different, it was less aggressive in this pool. With my past race fresh in my mind I worked through all of the points of our argument, elucidating my technique and turns as I swam slowly up and down to flush the lactic acid out of my muscles. I didn’t count, but it was probably after roughly 1km that I climbed out, with the realization that perhaps I was expecting too much and that my expectations of what was, were getting in the way of what was happening, limiting what could be. I resolved that in the coming evening, we would get to know each other for who we were now without presumptions passed down from the past.
With this attitude, I struck up pleasant conversation with a longtime rival on the half hour bus ride back to the hotel for lunch and rest. I devoured a hearty lunch of picked over left overs hurriedly as the hotel buffet was closing, then headed to my room and to my bed to needed rest.
The time passed too quickly. I hurriedly awoke from a deep dreamless sleep, packed my things, enjoyed some espresso and then headed back to the aquatic center for the finals.
The finals sessions are always intense. The topic of prize money stimulates a constant nervous buzz among the various swimmers who keep close tabs on points and standings, and inevitably surfaces whenever they are around. I shrugged off the comments and questions aimed at me, and my prospects. “You hustlers, I do it for the love and not the money”. I replied half jokingly.
After some calisthenics, stretching and prehab shoulder work, I got back into the warm up pool for a reacquaintance. I enthusiastically introduced myself once again, and after a few hundred meters we were getting along swimmingly. I picked up the pace, executed a few details at top speed, before saying goodbye for now. Time sped up as I flowed through my pre race routine.
With my feet precisely in place and my center of gravity teetering over the edge of the starting block, I took one last glance into the, calm, unpredictable clear blue body of water that awaited. “Take your marks” rang out, silencing the excited crowd. I savoured my final breath. “Expect nothing, experience everything “ I reminded myself, before stilling my mind in preparation for the momentary looming start.