What an amazing sensation! (3/2006)
Our swim team finished the season 9-1 overall, and 6-0 and in first place in our league. In the fourth meet of the season, we managed to beat our cross-town rival, Lathrup, by just two points by going 1-2 in the final relay. But in our seventh meet, we lost badly to Kimball. It seems like we always lose to Kimball. It’s like those guys are all 6’5”, have webbed fingers and toes, and are able to breathe underwater.
Even more exciting than our record that year was the fact that five of us qualified for our League meet.
Todd, Ralph and Kendall were no surprise.
Todd holds our school records in all of the freestyle sprints. He regularly went under 20 seconds for the 50-yard free, which I still can’t comprehend. The guy was built like a Greek Adonis.
Ralph was our distance guy. Even as a freshman, he was 6’3” and a total stick. He did okay in the 200, but he was awesome at the 500. It’s too bad we didn’t swim the 1650 in high school, because he was even better at that event when he swam AAU.
Kendall was our breaststroker. He was a total prick most of the time, but fast as hell at that damnable stroke.
Pete was a pleasant surprise. He got in for the 200 Individual Medley. He’d always been a good butterflyer and backstroker and a decent sprinter, but I remember that he really worked hard that year at breaststroke, which is where he had usually faltered. Coach was really pleased with Pete’s performance that year; he even named Pete honorary team captain.
And I’m the fifth guy that qualified for League that year. I was the total surprise. I swam the 100 butterfly. I’m not nearly as good as these other guys. I expect Todd, Ralph and Kendall will go to Regionals. I think Pete might have a chance, too. But I know there was no way I’ll go, but I was still psyched about the League meet.
That year, as a sophomore, I was still four seconds slower than the school record, which was set by a guy in the 1970s. But in our meet against Kimball that year, I had the race of my life and went 1:01 flat. Not great, but pretty good for a sophomore and someone that just started swimming competitively the year before.
Coach called the five of us over after the Kimball meet. I really wanted to catch up to my buddies, who were going to Denny’s after the meet. It was our tradition. We’d go to Denny’s, eat breakfast food like pancakes and waffles, someone would dare Kenny to do something stupid like drink a bottle of ketchup or eat twenty packets of sugar, and then we’d all get kicked out for being too rowdy.
Anyway, coach wanted to talk to us about continuing our training with him. He coached the AAU group right after we finished our practices. We needed to keep training, he’d said.
“We’re going to taper, so get ready to be pretty darn tired for the next few weeks,” he said.
Taper? “What’s that?” I asked. Coach explained how tapering works. For a few weeks, he was going to pound on us hard. We were going to do more yardage than we’d ever done before. Probably 16,000 to 18,000 yards each day. With little or no rest. Then, gradually, he’d bring us down in yardage until we were actually training less than we normally did.
“The idea is to get your bodies to have a ton of extra energy by the time the League meet comes around. That extra energy is going to translate into the swims of your lives, gentlemen,” Coach said.
The next two weeks were hell. I had never been so tired in my life before, or since. I remember I could barely lift my arms at the dinner table for those weeks. I did almost nothing else but train and sleep. Somehow, I managed to keep up with my homework. Barely.
Then we started the ramp down. By the end of the first week coming down, I was feeling damn good. By the end of the second week tapering down, I was feeling like electricity was pulsing through my body. It was all I could do to sit still in class.
Finally, League was fast approaching. The meet was on a Thursday.
The Tuesday before, Coach called us all over after our ultra-short practice, which was full of sprints.
“Guys, do you want to do a shaving party here at the school, or do you want to shave at home, separately?”
“You don’t have to do it, but it’s something that most swimmers do when they get to a big meet. You shave your legs, your underarms if you dare. Some people even shave the palms of their hands and their forearms.”
“The palms of their hands? Their forearms?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yeah,” Todd said. “It shaves off all the dead skin on your hands and forearms, so you feel the water even more.”
“Let’s meet here tomorrow night at 7:00,” Pete suggested.
“Okay with me,” Kendall piped in.
“Me too,” said Todd.
“Okay, count me in, I guess,” I said reluctantly. I’d have to explain this to my mom and dad.”
Wednesday night came and all of us met in the locker room. By 7:10, we were all in the showers with shaving cream and razors in hand.
By 7:30, my legs were shaved and I had five or six nicks to show for it. By 7:45, my underarms were shaved – boy did that feel weird – and then I finished up by shaving my hands and forearms, just like the other guys.
That night, I could feel my sheets on my legs all night. I was so aware of how it felt. Same thing with my sweat pants the following day at school.
Finally, school ended and it was time to drive over to Oak Park for the League meet. The school had just put in a new 20-feet deep pool with low, splash-free gutters. The pool was ultra-fast.
Coach gave us all pantyhose to wear for warm ups. “It’ll give you a ton of drag,” he said. “Plus, it’ll cover up the feeling you’re going to get from having shaved, so you won’t feel that until you race.”
I would have felt subconscious about it, but dozens of other swimmers were doing the same thing.
After warm-ups, we got together in the far corner of the pool, near the diving well. I was the last to swim. I watched Todd destroy the field in the 50 and the 100. He placed third in the 200. Kendall took second in the 100 breaststroke. He did not swim his best time, and the other guy shaved a full two seconds off of his time. Pete did well, and took fifth.
Then it was my turn.
I took off my warm ups and began stretching. Coach helped me with my triceps stretch. I ran in place for a while and flung my arms around in circles to get loose.
Then I walked to the blocks.
After the announcer called off our names and schools, we all stepped up. Some guys adjusted their swim caps. Some guys adjusted their goggles. Me, I just took a few deep breaths and stepped forward so my toes curled over the front edge of my block.
“Swimmers take you mark,” the started said through the megaphone.
“BANG!” when the gun.
I pushed off with all of my might and was airborne.
I was in the air for less than a second, but I remember the sense of anticipation I had. I was set to swim the race of my life.
When I hit the water, all I could think about was the gliding sensation. I felt frictionless. It felt like I was going to coast all the way to the other side of the pool with ease. I could feel the water run over and past my body.
When I took my first stroke, I could feel the water press against my palms and forearms. It felt as if I was pushing against a solid wall, the sensation was that strong.
I was out fast. Maybe too fast. When I hit the wall at 50 yards, I’d set my personal best for the 50, Coach told me after the meet. When I hit the wall at 75 yards, I was really worried that I’d gone out too fast, that I was going to tire and slow. But the last 25 yards, I kept thinking about how cool it felt to feel the water streamline over my shaved body, about how fast I felt. About how fast I was.
When I touched the wall, I looked over. I took second in my heat. Then I looked up at the digital scoreboard. I looked for my time. There it was.
I had just gone 58.9. I could not believe it! I had just shaved over three seconds off my best time!
I looked over to where I knew Coach was. He, Todd, Ralph, Kendall and Pete were all whooping and hollering.
I’ll never forget that day. The strange but compelling feeling of my body slipping through the water, feeling it on every inch of my skin. The feeling of blowing away my personal best time. And the feeling of having my coach and teammates cheering at the top of their lungs for me.
Author’s note: This story is based on reality, sort of. For one thing, I never swam that fast.