Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fiction - The Swimmer

Randy stood behind the starting block, flipping one foot and then the other. He adjusted his goggles again and again. The team might have been ahead, or maybe the other team was ahead. He didn't know. He never knew. It didn't matter or help to know. All he needed to know was that he was warmed up, stretched out and ready.

He didn't really like water that much, or being cold. Not being cold at all. Just get in, swim hard and get dried off as fast as possible. He was far from the model athlete. He didn't pay any attention to the meet. He spent all his time screwing around and flirting, with the other team if at all possible. (Co-ed swim teams were a really good idea in his opinion.) But when he got in the water he was fast, not the fastest, but usually fast enough to score some good points for the team.

Swimmers up.

Step, step. Up on to the block. Gritty, wet surface under his bare feet. Adjust goggles. Flip left foot, flip right foot. There were people in the room. They were making noise, last minute encouragements. Randy didn't get that at all. He didn't cheer unless it was really close, because that was the only time it was helpful.

Swimmers... take your marks.

Twelve hands gripped the fronts of the blocks. They all hit within the same half of a second, sounding like applause that was suddenly aborted. The pool was quiet. Pumps. Drips. Murmurs. It was in this moment that Randy understood what authors meant when they wrote about time ceasing to exist. It just wasn't there anymore.

Slip, SPLASH! The starter had held back just a few hundredths of a second and lane two jumped the gun. Lane three baubled on his block but hung on. The other team was grumbling, nobody saying, "That's alright". That told Randy that the score was close, but it still didn't matter. Lane two hauled himself up out of the pool and slapped back to the visitors bench, goggles dangling from his right ring finger.

Adjust goggles. Flip left foot, flip right foot, shake left leg, shake right leg.

Lane two, false start. Swimmers.... take your marks.

Only people who thought about time false started. So stupid to psyche yourself out on the block like tha-


SNAP! Before the starter let off his button Randy was in the air. He felt his legs lock and the muscles jiggle as he planed toward the water. The familiar mental image of an old fashioned carpenter's ruler slid into his mind as it always did for the brief period that he was airborne.

SPLASH! (silencewithbubblesinit) kick, kick, kick, SURFACE! Three powerful dolphin kicks were all he had to go on to get started. Butterfly was his weak stroke. Despite having the torpedo shape, big hands and feet, and over six feet of wingspan, Randy just didn't have the strength in his shoulders to make much time in that stroke. It messed with his breathing too. He never felt like he could get his head in the right position to get a good breath in.

As he walloped down the lane he could easily see the other swimmers from lane five. Three and four were both half a body length ahead of him as he approached the turn. He was holding out against the poor slobs in one and six who may as well have just been practicing. It wouldn't have been any consolation to know that the freshman and sophomore in those lanes had trembled a little bit inside when they saw him standing at the block, all arms and concentration.

At the turn his chest was already on fire. It was just a matter of damage control at this point. Despite being in terrific shape, the second length of the fly was always hell. All he had to do was make it back to the blocks and he could get a rest in. Nobody understood what he meant when he spoke about it that way. It's a RACE! You've got to PUSH! Nope.

SLAP! LAUNCH!! He hit the gutter with both hands, brought his feet up and kicked back. An image of a lawn chair was in his mind as he flung his arms back and hit the water coasting. The first length he didn't even worry about his stroke, it was all about air. He still made decent time, but it drove the coaches nuts. That was fine with him. As he passed under the flags and started counting strokes to the turn he was briefly aware of the crowd noise... two, three, breath, FLIP!

Backstroke turns were a real son of a bitch, but after he worked on his a little he had started picking up over a second on his time. The thought snapped Randy back to the race and he began to pour it on. Three and four were still nearly a full body length ahead and he knew he had to make most of that up. As he pushed off the wall he slid out of the mental lawn chair and put his long arms to work. The ceiling picked up its pace as it slid by him. Flags... two, three, breath, FLIP! TWIST!

He was right side up again and kicked off three hard dolphins, then opened up and began his breast stoke before he surfaced. He almost grinned. For some reason, a back turn into a right-side-up stroke was no problem and he had actually passed three and four with that little maneuver. Breast stroke was another weak spot. No matter what he did, he couldn't get his right leg to frog kick properly. He was pretty sure his right foot was at least partly responsible for some of the coaches' grey hair. Whatever, it was just part of the drama.

At the turn it was the fly all over again. Three and four were half a length ahead. Three didn't matter so much. It was his teammate, a textbook example of how to do the breast stroke. It didn't matter which of them won, as long as the other took second. Big points if it went down that way, and a shutout for the other team. With two out of the race, that made it a little easier, but four wasn't going to just roll over for them, he was leading in fact.

Randy became aware of the crowd again when he was three pulls away from the turn. They were going nuts. They probably had good reason, (three) with the lead changing hands and himself falling back and making it up, (two) there was a lot of drama in the water right then, (duck).

TURN! If Randy had been an egotist he would have mouthed the word, "SHOWTIME!" as he double tapped the gutter and flung himself sideways. He wasn't though, it was his stroke and it was time to go to work. It wasn't that he was all that good at the freestyle, it was just that he saved it all for the last lap. He was a distance man and his muscles were only just warmed up from his previous exertions.

He pounded out of the turn for three strokes then settled down into his resting rhythm. He was taking two strokes every three seconds while all the rest were pulling nearly twice that fast. But not moving twice as fast. Breathing every third stroke he kept an eye on the others until he was even with his teammate but still more than half a length behind four. The crowd was out of their minds but he still wasn't really aware. He had pulled completely into himself for the last three pulls into the turn.

SNAP! And he was back off the wall in an instant. Flipturns... he could do. Now was the moment where the secret strategy came into play. Lane three was a distance man too. While most swimmers could give it all they had in the last ten yards while their bodies were screaming for oxygen, Randy and his teammate could push the whole length and then kick it up a notch at the end.

He started pounding out his cadence for the home stretch. Four strokes to three seconds, lane three was doing the same. Randy was now fully aware of the crowd yelling their heads off. Now, was the time that it was helpful. At the half he was even with lane four. He couldn't see it in the kid's face, but read the panic in his stroke. He went into his push with twenty yards to go and effectively ran himself out of gas.

Randy pounded three more strokes and was half a length ahead of him. Lane three had caught him up too. Three more strokes and he was under the flags, a full body length ahead of four and still pulling away. The last three strokes he didn't breathe and pounded all the way to the gutter. He popped up in time to see lane three take his last two strokes and they both hauled themselves out of the water and spun around, arms in twin V's, as lane four flopped his last, spent strokes into the wall.

He gaped up at them, fish mouth gasping for air. Panting in disbelief. The home team was positively loosing their heads. The visitors continued to cheer in the slowpokes in the outside lanes. Among the dejected faces was the face of the cute diver. She was looking right at Randy. Yeah buddy.

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