Walnut Creek, Pacific Masters Short Course Meters Kerry O’Brien Championships
October 16 and 17, 2021
Yeah! Heather Farms, Clarke Swim Center, or whatever other name this pool is referred to! Home of Walnut Creek Masters, host of the annual Short Course Meter Champs for many years. I was so happy to be able to compete in person after two years, at this pool, which for some reason has always treated me well.
Early on, our Coach Sharlene was advising all her swimmers, if they intended to compete at the meet, to take it easy. Maybe swim only two or three events. We haven’t had competitions in two years, she explained. Don’t worry about times, just swim your best and finish well.
I protested. “But Coach, I want to swim 7 events, the maximum allowed. If I don’t, there’s no way I can get High Point.” High Point is given to the swimmer for each age and gender group who earns the highest number of points. For each swim, first place is awarded 21 points, 2nd place gets 19, 3rd earns 18, etc.
I once tied for High Point. That’s as close as I’ve ever gotten. But Coach told me tackling seven events was probably too much. I’d do much better concentrating on my favorites. I did agree with her because I felt the familiar fatigue set in early when I practiced racing leading up to the meet. I wasn’t in the best shape, and two years older since I last competed in this pool.
I told Coach that I would sign up for my favorites, the 200 Backstroke and the 200 Breaststroke. And maybe throw in a couple of 50s, also Back and Breast, thinking that 50s might be easier, two laps as opposed to eight! I deliberately left any Freestyle events out as I haven’t been feeling very fast or confident in the Freestyle lately. Also, I calculated, most of my competitors would swim the Freestyle, and I would have a better chance of finishing near the top in the other strokes.
The problem with my plan was that when I went on-line to register and looked at the program, I saw that three of my four chosen events were all on Sunday. To make matters worse, the 200 Breaststroke, my most grueling event, was immediately after the 50 Back. Even though it was only 2 laps, I could not rest or take for granted, that 50 Back. There were competitors licking at my heels and I had to give it my all to get in the top three finishes. Knowing I had a hard race to swim right afterwards would be a weight on my mind. I had a talk with myself. I can do it. I know I can do it. So, I signed up for the first two consecutive events, finishing Sunday with the 200 Backstroke near the end of the day. Sunday was going to be challenging.
We used to be friends, that 200 Back and me, but it’s been fickle lately, sometimes treating me well and sometimes kicking my butt. It was the last event of the day before the relays, so anxiety loomed the entire two days of the meet.
The fourth event I had decided to swim was the 50 Breast. That was on scheduled on Saturday. Fine. I’ll do the 50 Breast along with two probable relays that Sharlene would have us swim as Mud Sharks team efforts. However, I know myself enough to realize that I would not be happy sitting at a swimming meet all day Saturday to swim only one event, so therefore, signed on for both the 100 Backstroke and the 100 Breaststroke to fill my time. I called Coach Sharlene. Explaining the predicament, I told her that I had registered for 6 events, against her advice. She surprised me by saying, “If six, why not seven?”
Seven? Oh no! She had scared me about doing more than four. Six was more than any of my teammates were doing. Seven would be too much, I thought. Turns out, I was wrong.
On Saturday, at 8 AM sharp, my 100 Backstroke was the first event of the day. I had warmed up and was ready, waiting at the blocks for my heat number to be called. Reading the heat sheets prior, I knew that two other faster swimmers in my age group had also signed up for the 100 Backstroke.
As we were waiting to swim, I heard the Announcer call for first one, then another familiar name to the blocks for their race. Apparently, both of my competitors were not there to swim the event. No-shows; both no-shows! I quietly thanked God for my good fortune, and confidently swam my 100 Backstroke in the time estimated by Coach Sharlene, slower than pre-COVID, but a good time. I received First Place, and a Blue Ribbon. Although it’s a terrible way to win, I was ecstatic! Brother Mark reminded me that you “must be present to win.” And the age-old adage, “Half the effort of all successful endeavors is just showing up.”
By the time of my second event, the 50 Breaststroke, more swimmers had arrived at the meet, including two speedy women. I swam hard and came in third, with a beautiful, pristine white ribbon as the award. White compliments blue rather nicely.
Surprisingly, I won my 100 Breaststroke, won it fair and square. Another blue ribbon added to the arrangement. Saturday was a good day, but there’s no resting on any laurels here. The next day’s difficult races were foremost in my mind. I tried to get a good night’s sleep and was back at Heather Farms pool early Sunday morning.
The 50 Backstroke began the day for me, and I unexpectedly won! The 200 Breaststroke immediately followed as planned, which was brutally grueling, eight very long laps, each one taking longer and longer. Completing that event was downright hard. The silver lining was that I was the only one in my age group brave enough to attempt eight laps of Breaststroke, so received another Blue Ribbon for my considerable effort. Phew!
My teammates were swimming beautifully and competently, making us all proud. Along with my individual races, I swam on four relays, placing third, two seconds and a first. As it turned out, with only six swimmers, our amazing Mud Sharks came in 8th over all with 52 teams participating!! Go Mud Sharks!
Besides racing in the relays, I sat quietly anxiously anticipating my last swim, the 200 Backstroke. I could not relax. Tired from my previous exertions and worried that I had indeed signed up for more than I could handle, I really had to concentrate. “Take it out slowly” I repeatedly told myself, “You like this event!” And I do, so I was believing my mantra.
The 200 backstroke was wonderful, it felt good. I nailed all seven of the turns, four strokes exactly from under the flags, turn over, somersault, and push off. I saw and heard Coach encourage me as I came up for air and had enough energy left to finish strongly.
Phyllis was there as I exited the pool, complimenting me on my swim and letting me know that I had indeed come in first! She’s usually my competition, and I asked her why she had not swum the 200 Back. She smiled and said it was because of me!! Me?
Yup, she said, she knew I’d be swimming the 200 Backstroke so she decided to swim the 400 Freestyle, something I would not be entered in. If she had entered the 200 Backstroke and come in second behind me, a possibility, then I would have earned one more point than she, giving me High Point. Aha! I was not the only one calculating final totals. If only I had taken the last word of advice from Coach and entered, and won, a seventh event… If only…
There were some chuckles from my teammates that I should deck-enter the 400 Freestyle at the last minute to get more points and head Phyllis off at the pass. That would have been perfectly legal to do, but in my mind, poor sportsmanship. Besides, time was an issue; I had to go to work.
I did leave the meet to go to work at Le Chalet Basque Restaurant Sunday night, both exhausted and exhilarated from my weekend, and showed everyone my beautiful, mostly blue, ribbons. Five individual first place finishes and one third.
Phyllis won the 400 Freestyle and racked up 20 more total points than I did, 143 to my 123, winning High Point. She swam the events I won’t do, the hard ones: 1500 Free, 400 IM, 200 IM, 200 Butterfly. She earned that High Point award, for sure.
At 68, I am near the top end of my age group and “young” 65- and 66- year-olds are now “aging up” into my competitive circle of 65-69. Attaining High Point may not be easy in the coming year. This may have been my chance. If only…
There are a few lessons to be learned from this story: