I just had another amazing, memorable swimming experience! These champs, one of the first gatherings after the infamous lockdowns, was held at the Morgan Hill Aquatic Center. It was one of the best swimming meets I have ever attended.
It was momentous for two reasons. First, I swam well, chose the right events to swim, and won High Point for the first time in my swimming career. High Point, accumulating the highest number of points in my age group, earned me a place in the record book, a bona fide certificate, and a gift card (to buy another bathing suit, of course!). Earning High Point is a highlight for me.
But overshadowing that accomplishment was the fact that my family, again, was there, and swam along with me. If you have read my book, The Water Beckons or know any of my history, you will understand the importance of having my family attend the meet and better yet, participate. This is how it all began:
Back in February, my team, The Mud Sharks, were making plans to attend the Short Course Champs. Coach Sharlene was preparing the list of attendees, recording what events they were going to swim, and tentatively putting her relays together. Out of the blue, she said to me, “Linda, we need another woman to fill out our relays.” I jokingly answered, “I’ll get my sister.”
My sister Jeri is a fantastic swimmer. Jeri was the one who got our family started in the world of competitive swimming, many decades ago. She lives on the East Coast but happened to be working temporarily in California. Without consulting Jeri, I volunteered her services to Coach, who takes these things seriously, and without hesitation, said, “Call her!”
I left a cryptic message on Jeri’s phone, something about swimming and an up-coming event. Jeri immediately responded, “I know what you’re doing. I cannot swim in a meet.”
There were the usual reasons:
These are all valid concerns. But Jeri is a trooper. Swimming is in her blood. She can do it in her sleep. For the “I’m out of shape” complaint, I knew she had been swimming only a few times in her new temporary location, but had kept her feet in the water, so-to-speak.
So, I goaded her by asking if she could get “there and back” in under a minute. She was incensed and insulted, “Of course I can!” All right then, I tell her, “You’ll be swimming the freestyle in our relay. And, while you’re there, you may as well enter an individual event. That gives you a second chance to swim, and you’ll feel accomplished.”
Regarding the “haven’t competed in years” worry, she was in luck. This Morgan Hill meet was the first Pacific Masters pool meet in two years, due to the COVID, and everyone was in the same boat.
About the starting blocks, many swimmers do not use the blocks. Maybe they have issues with their back, or simply, don’t like them. Masters Swimming allows anyone to start from the edge of the pool, or, even better, if they are having troubles with their dive, or their goggles, they may start from the water. Jeri did not have an “out.”
She reluctantly agreed. First step was to register with USMS (United States Masters Swimming) as a member of the Rolling Hills Mud Sharks. The next step was to start practicing in a pool she found nearby. Yeah! My sister will be swimming with us!
I told my brother Mark, also an amazingly strong swimmer, specializing in distance events. As it turns out, he would be visiting his son and family in Colorado the week before. Instead of going straight home, he could change his itinerary and compete at the meet with us!! And then there were three. Once Coach got wind of this and started adding up the extra points to be earned with two new swimmers, there was no turning back.
Now Mom had to come, too. Over her 93 years on this planet, she has spent many a weekend at swimming meets, having five children competing in the sport. She understands everything, each event and all the rules. Familiar to her are the sounds of the splashing water, the whistles and starting buzzers, and the constant congratulatory cheering. She knows very well the smell of chlorine and the feeling of wet feet as each flip turn brings more of the pool water up onto the pool deck. She told us that mostly she remembers timing and officiating, and the snacks that came her way: free sandwiches, fruit, drinks, and cookies! (We must keep our timers and officials fed and hydrated!)
A special shout-out and thank you to sister Tracy, who was not swimming, although she is fully capable of diving in and probably beating us all, for bringing Mom. And to Tracy’s daughter Andrea, son-in-law Matt, and their two daughters, Emily, and Leah, for showing up to cheer on their crazy great aunts and uncle. What good sports! It made it a truly wonderful family occasion. Only one sister, Jodie, was missing due to a pre-planned family vacation. She was conspicuous by her absence.
All three of us swam well. Mark did better than he expected, beating his seeded times by a large margin. He swam seven events: 50 Free, 100 Free, 500 Free, 50 Fly, 100 Fly, the 100 IM, and HE WON HIS 200 IM!!! He racked up lots of points for the Mud Sharks! And had fun doing it.
Showing no signs of nervousness, he entertained us, and the crowd, while awaiting his events. Standing up on the blocks, he pumped his fists and made Tony the Tiger gestures before each event. That’s my brother! A swimmer can only get away with that when they’re good!
Mark wrote up a heartfelt letter to the team after the meet:
“Okay, an outsider’s opinion: Well-run swim meet with excellent venue. I entered the meet on Saturday knowing only one other participant… no problem. The Mud Shark team is a family disguised as a swimming association. Everyone was incredibly warm, welcoming, and personable. Thanks to everybody for the camaraderie and take stock that you are all so fortunate to have such a cohesive, supportive group of friends. Go Sharlene, Go Mud Sharks!”
Jeri did so well! With all her trepidations, she dove off the side of the pool (not having to mess with the intimidating, slippery, slanted, starting blocks), and came in second in her 50 Freestyle!! This is the annual Pacific Masters Championship. Everyone who is anyone shows up, and second place is astoundingly good, especially considering that Jeri had not even been swimming regularly!! Just imagine if she had been training along with us!!
And my siblings and I swam in the relays, helping Mud Sharks take first places! The announcer at the meet acknowledged the family affair. Mom didn’t really hear it through all the commotion, but it was for her.
The weekend was not without drama. On Friday, just before my first event, the 200 Freestyle, I fell. I had just commented on the surface of the pool deck. It was not the usual concrete. It was sort of coated, with a softer texture, that felt good under our bare feet. I was moving quickly and, suddenly, I was down, with my left leg bent under me, and my left pinky toe crunched. Other swimmers saw me fall and rushed to help me get up. Ouch. The surface was soft, but slippery. Now I knew.
I watched as my little toe began to discolor, then turn a bright, swollen purple. Some said I may have broken it, but I didn’t, just a really, bad bruise. But the worst part was that when my leg got bent under, it wrenched my knee and pulled my thigh muscle. That started to hurt, and I was limping slightly. But then my event was up. I had come too far to not swim, and I dove in.
On my first turn, the little toe reminded me that it did not want to help in pushing me off the wall, and I compensated for the next six turns. My left thigh muscle did not want to participate and kick, so I let it drag. Unbelievably, I still did a better time than I had anticipated. Maybe it was luck, but also excellent training by Coach Sharlene. She had done her best to prepare us for this competition.
That night, at the hotel, I iced my leg and toe. (I had not brought my Bemer machine with me, that would have alleviated a lot of the swelling and pain. Too bad.) The limp had now become pronounced, and I was very concerned about the thigh not wanting to do the frog kick required the next day for my 200 Breaststroke, eight laps.
Thankfully, the next morning at the pool, after a very slow warm-up, the thigh muscle allowed me to kick, but not with the same vigor that I had been training for. I made it through the 200. The toe was beautifully discolored, and the bruising was spreading throughout my foot, but at least, the leg was feeling better.
Now Sunday morning arrives, and I plan to swim again. I have the 100 Freestyle followed by the 50 Breaststroke. I’m feeling pretty good and confident, and jumped into the pool for my warm-up. I did a wacky jump into the pool, well… because I always do… with one leg in front of the other, like the old lifesaving jumps they taught us, to not go in too deeply. But this day, the pulled thigh muscle got pulled back again. Really ouch. Oh boy! The same spot re-injured in the same way. I was so mad at myself. And during the warm-up, the left leg was again, refusing to do the frog kick. It just said, no. I swam slowly, giving it a chance to get used to the water, and got through my 100-yard Freestyle race not kicking very hard.
For the 50 Breaststroke, I told my leg that it was only two laps, and I would baby it for the rest of the day, or even week, if it would only do its job for two laps. Breaststroke must be swum symmetrically, arms and legs, and most of the forward momentum comes from a strong frog kick. Thankfully, my leg and knee complied, and I completed a respectable 50-yard breaststroke. Phew. Injuries can happen so fast. I am super lucky that I wasn’t side-lined.
As I said earlier, I swam well. 200 Free, 100 Free, 50 Back, 100 Back, 200 Back, 50 Breast and the dreaded 200 Breast, earning 136 points, giving me High Point. So exciting! Excuse me for mentioning it twice.
I tried to collect all our ribbons at the end of the meet on Sunday but missed a few, including a hard-earned blue for placing First in my 200 Backstroke. Oh well. The ribbons are nice, but nothing is as important as more family bonding over our love of swimming. It was the best one yet!!
I’m looking forward to our next meet, at the end of July. Long Course Meters, to be held at the brand-new facility at the Novato, Indian Valley College of Marin campus. And so, the saga will continue.