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Nerves of Steel

by Kristina Henry

When I first joined my Masters team I swore up and down to my husband and anyone who would listen that I would not participate in any meets. Ever.

I was doing this purely for the wellness aspect, and smaller jeans.

My vow lasted about two months before I found myself competing in my first meet. Granted it was a home meet at a neighborhood outdoor pool with all of fifty swimmers in attendance.

There were no groups of kids huddled together or parents watching. Instead there were my teammates, visiting swimmers and a few dutiful spouses and children sitting on lawn chairs. The atmosphere was not charged. A bit chaotic maybe, but pretty mellow.

When my heat approached I walked over to the blocks. There were three of us. I was sandwiched in between two younger and built guys. I swam 100 free and survived.

Everything moved rather quickly and the mid-morning meet was over before lunchtime.

This competition thing wasn’t so bad after all.

At my second meet I was prepared. There were more swimmers, the pool was located at a Division 1 university aquatics facility, and it was a championship meet. Thankfully, I didn’t realize the gravity of the situation; that is, until it was my turn. I barely breathed on my first lap but I made it.

Since then meets have gotten easier but not without a lot of deep breaths and therapy along the way. Well, not real therapy, but talking-to-anyone-who-will-listen therapy.

What is it about meets that makes us so nervous? No matter what our profession (CEO, doctor, teacher, chef) we get tense.

We can run a business, perform surgery, lecture a classroom and cook for hundreds of people a night but meets, to quote a friend, can totally “wig us out.”

I remember getting stomachaches and a modest form of anxiety days before a race. By the time the actual meet day arrived I was bouncing off the walls and swearing that this was really my last time.

Why put myself through this? I’m an adult. I can choose how to spend my time. And while I enjoy the practices and my teammates’ company I don’t enjoy the pressure of a public contest.

Recently, I was asked to time at a local high school meet and was amazed with what I saw; teenage girls and boys joking, relaxed and having fun.

It’s often noted that children are fearless and that as we enter adulthood we become too obsessed with perfection. I’m not speaking for everyone. There are swimmers I see with nerves of steel. You know the ones I’m talking about; the guy who’s staring straight ahead or the woman splashing herself with water; both visualizing personal bests.

I envy them.

While they are focused, I am asking the timers to be generous with their trigger fingers and saying, “this is my first time swimming the (insert event) and I don’t want to do it but my coach/team captain put me in.”

After my timing experience, I decided what the heck, this is about fun. Or it should be. At my age I’m not going to win a swimming scholarship or endorsement deals. And, although I would like to make nationals some day, I want to enjoy the swimming experience for years to come. I want to race and try new events. I want to do well.

If the 100 fly is my biggest worry then my life is pretty good.

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