I recently received as a birthday gift some old VHS tapes transferred to digital. One of the files was my senior year of High School district swimming meet. Many who follow my running career are surprised to learn that I am a far better swimmer naturally than I am a runner. Even though I did not start swimming until 10th grade, I was fortunate enough to do very well. Just recently my last record fell and it stung a little bit. But when I remember that the record I broke was 9 years old and we
revered those guys, here's hoping the youngsters thought nice things about me.
As I watched this district meet, I was reminded of two separate events: my 200 yard and 500 yard races. I wasn't much of a 200 guy as my coach was always popping me in and out of events to help the team. Swimming is very much a game of chess when teams are evenly matched. You see even though I was our school record holder in the 500, I was also the team's fastest sprinter. However, we had some guys who weren't too far off from me in the sprints which allowed us to move me around a bit. This definitely put me in some unenviable positions as sprints and distances events are often swam back-to-back because people rarely do both. (To put this in perspective, it would be like expecting Usain Bolt to run the 100 meter dash and then also compete in the mile or 5k.) I often was taking on events without must rest.
Watching the Women's 3000 Steeplechase Finals at IAAF Worlds a few weeks ago was a rollercoaster for track fans. Their were wrong turns (on a track?!), collisions, and surprise endings. If you haven't check it out, please do here. If you don't want the ending spoiled, stop reading until you watch the video.
When Courtney Frerichs napped a second place finish, knocking over 14 seconds from her time, it was absolutely amazing. When you are at that level, to take that sort of time off your finish is almost unheard of. As she lay on the track, hugging Emma Coburn, the overall winner, she was obviously overtaken not only with joy but disbelief. It showed all over her face.
This face struck me. I had just seen this face elsewhere and it was of me on those videotapes I just had transferred. Going into that district championship, in my last dual meet I had been able to eke under two minutes for the 200 for the first time ever. 1:59:7 if I recall. It was a big boost mentally as I knew that it was likely to put me in the fastest heat at districts, even if I was dead last in that heat. I was. All the way in lane 6 I wasn't expecting much but I wanted to give it my all. Long story short, there was one false start (and an automatic DQ for one fella), I led the entire race for the first 100 and then hung onto a 3rd place overall, a State Qualifier and knocked 5 seconds off my time to swim a 1:54.88. To say my face looked like Courtney's would be an understatement.
A little while later I was lined up for the 500 yard free. This was my favorite event and I had worked hard to be seeded third. I went out like a shot (which was how I swam), held onto to the lead for 400 yards and finally succumbed to a superior swimmer. However, even though I lost the overall win, I did take second place, knocking 14 seconds off my time and broke the district record (which obviously didn't matter since I took second.) But again, I remember sitting there completely thunderstruck.
Earlier in the meet, the timeclock on the side of the wall which distance swimmers would use to see how their pace was, shorted out. Since I was swimming out of my mind, I had no idea how well I was doing. Everything hurt more than it ever had at the same time it felt wonderful. When I finished, I had no clock to look at. I had to ask the timers standing by what my time was. When they told me, I stood there stunned.
As I watched this video of Courtney, obviously far superior in her sport than I in any of mine, it nonetheless allowed me to take myself back to that time. That is what I love so much about sports which involve just you and the clock. There is no teammate to rely on. There are no timeouts. There is nothing but you hoping against hope to beat every time you have ever run or swam. In my instance I had two of those just a few hours apart. Courtney had hers on a world stage. But they hit us both personally just about the same, I am sure.
Thanks for the memory jog, Courtney.