The Swim Meet
By Annie Laura Smith
Coach Nelson blew his whistle to end the YMCA team’s swimming practice. “OK, team. Everyone out of the pool. Check your name off the sheet if you’ve finished your extra practice for the week. Remember, it won’t just be speed that gives us a win. Strength and endurance will be the key to winning the meet at Clarksville.”
No One Will Know
Coach Nelson expects too much of us, Jeff thought as he watched his best friend and champion swimmer, Mike, put a check mark next to his name on the Dolphin swim team roster.
So what if I didn’t do all of the extra practice this week? No one will ever know, Jeff decided. He followed Mike to the list of names, paused a moment to look at all the other check marks, and then put a mark by his name, too.
“The Blue Whales will see who’s the best team this year,” team captain, John Blake, said.
“Yea, we’re in the best shape of any team,” Jeff’s friend Mike said. Bet we’ve gone more distance in the pool than a real dolphin swims!”
What’s the big deal about extra practice? Jeff wondered. I’m a fast swimmer without it. Who needs all that strength and endurance stuff anyway?
Truth or Consequences
On the day of the meet against the Clarksville Blue Whales, the Dolphins team assembled to hear Coach Nelson’s final instructions.
“We’ve worked hard. We’re ready. Let’s put the Blue Whales out of competition this year. Now go get ‘em!”
The team clapped in agreement and quickly lined up behind the starting block for the medley relay. Jeff was to be the fourth swimmer for the Dolphins. After the buzzer sounded for the relay, the team captain, John Blake, backstroked to an early lead over his opponent. Mike Johnson followed with a perfect butterfly stroke and kept the lead. Tim Carlson’s breaststroke also outdistanced his opponent. When it was finally Jeff’s turn, the Dolphins had a narrow lead.
Jeff dove in and swam freestyle as hard as he could. As he did a flip turn at the end of the pool for the final return distance, he suddenly felt as though his arms were lead weights. As he paused in the water, his opponent took advantage of Jeff’s hesitation and quickly out-swam him.
When Jeff reached the end of the race, the look on Coach Nelson’s face and the expressions of his teammates told the whole story: he had lost the race for them.
Jeff didn’t have the heart to look in the crowd for his parents. He knew he’d see the same looks of disappointment on their faces. His dad had even taken over Jeff’s paper route three days a week so he could get in more practice time–time Jeff hadn’t used wisely.
He followed the team back to the locker room. No team members blamed him outwardly, but he could sense that they did by their silence.
A Change of Heart
During the next several weeks, Jeff worked twice as hard as anyone else. He kept to his diet, got plenty of rest, and practiced his strokes. Even Mike had trouble keeping up with his friend.
The Heart to Win
On the day of the next meet, Jeff looked across the pool at the Shark’s team members and swallowed hard. No, he wouldn’t let anyone down this time. He was ready.
The teams were tied when it came Jeff’s turn to swim. He dove into the pool and swam the fastest he had ever done. And he wasn’t even tired when he kicked off the pool wall for the final lap.
There was a different look on Coach Nelson’s face as Jeff touched the pool wall well ahead of his Shark opponent.
After he climbed out of the pool, he turned to see his father’s beaming smile. “Good race, Son. I knew the Dolphins could do it!”
Jeff nodded and knew he couldn’t ever take being in shape for granted again. Strength and endurance required practice. Practicing the drill strokes was the key to being a good swimmer and a team member others could count on.
He was one Dolphin who would be ready to out-swim any Sharks, Whales, or other sea creatures in future meets!
© Annie Laura Smith