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Swimming against the current: how to win a swim meet

The Mills College swim team at Chapman University in Orange, CA on Jan 28. The swim meet was back to back with a competition at Cal Tech the previous day. (Natalie Spangler)

After nearly a month of being a part of the Mills College swim team, I finally got to put my training to the test: my first swim meet.

I traveled with the team to Los Angeles, where we competed against Cal Tech, Chapman, Biola and Vanguard. I dove head first into the swimming competition, hoping to come up with some decent times.

So was I a little fish in a big pond, sinking beneath a surface of college athletes?

Read on.

I wasn’t expecting to win the event as I dove into the pool. My greatest hope at the time was survival.

Yet there I was, neck and neck with a Cal Tech swimmer during my 50 yard leg of the 200 yard relay. Three other Mills College swimmers had swam their 50 and I was the last one. The swimmer before me had put us in first, her strong arms chopping through the water.

My job? To close the deal.

I propelled my arms as hard as I could, taking in as little breath as possible to keep my momentum. I flip turned at the other side of the pool, pushing off on my back and rotating forward. 25 yards left to go.

My body aching, I tore back to the other side, not stopping until after I’d slammed my hands against the wall. I looked up and saw the three other relay swimmers, faces wet and smiling.

We had won the final event of our day. And calculating in all the other events, we had won the whole swim meet.

I hoisted myself out the pool, joyously celebrating with my teammates. Our last few weeks of rigorous training had paid off and we had data to prove it.

I wasn’t always swimming with the team, though.

I also swam the 1000 freestyle, the longest event of the day consisting of 40 lengths of the pool. It felt amazing to glide through the water for 15 minutes, feeling my muscles ache as I heard my teammates shout out my name as they crouched at the end of the pool.

I was competing against two other people, both from Cal Tech. One of them held a faster pace, while the other swimmer kept right by my side for a majority of the swim. I felt comfortable, though,  as if I had a lot left in me. I wasn’t so sure if she did.

The faster swimmer finished, while the other began to fall behind me. I had a feeling I would eventually lose her as the race went on; it seemed as though she was pushing an unnatural pace to keep up with me.

The last few laps blurred by, my breath becoming shorter with each stroke. The end seemed like an impossible achievement, but my final lap came and I slammed by  body through the water as hard as I could. I splashed into the wall, exhausted but thrilled that I had finished. I had just completed a 1000 yard race, coming in second of three.

I was thrilled.

The race wasn’t over, though. I turned around, cheering on the Cal Tech swimmer still completing her race. I had been in her place mere seconds ago and I knew the agonizing pain of an endurance race. She came in and the three of us shook hands, satisfied and relieved that the race was over.

And that’s the thing with swimming. Although you’re a team, at the end of the day, you’re the person staring at the line on the bottom of the pool, pushing yourself to finish the event as quickly as possible. Even if you win or lose in the event, you know each person hurt just as much.

It would kind of be rude if the swimmer next to you didn’t shake your hand.

Read the rest of the series

Swimming against the current:
1.) Becoming a college athlete
2.) Getting down to business and gearing up for swim meets
3.) How to win a swim meet
4.) The final race