Chlorine Chronicles: My ode to the comma splice, and gratitude as Senior year comes to an end

Ms. and Mr. Bauman, you have both patiently tried to disavow me of my affinity for the comma splice. I feel that no amount of red ink can change my sentence-building ways. Know that every time I write one, I will fondly think of how you tried to break me of my habit. I’ve tried — I really have — but I just think and dream in comma splices. 

I feel it is fitting that I start this, my last Chlorine Chronicles, with gratitude to you both. Please be kind about the comma splice edits! I am Rebecca Waterson, a comma splice, student and swimmer.

I am writing this on Saturday, May 9. This should be the day I am stepping onto the blocks to defend my Sac-Joaquin Section title in the 100-yard butterfly and help the Country Day girls varsity team win the Division III section title for the third year in a row. 

I feel out of place sitting at home, scratching a sunburn that came from biking instead of swimming, and playing with my properly conditioned hair. (I know it’s weird, but since I don’t have to worry about my cap falling off, I’ve actually been able to take care of my curls.) 

I could wallow in self-pity and “what ifs.” There have been a few days in this quarantine when everything seems impossible. But I’m fighting to stay positive and motivated. 

For me, this period is similar to when I had to wear a back brace for scoliosis: The future is unknown, and things won’t be the same once the world starts to turn again. 

The best thing I can do is stay in the present and try my best to choose the healthiest options available day by day. 

I honestly don’t know when I’ll be back in the pool to train. The last time I touched chlorine was March 14. This is the longest I have been out of the water since I began year-round swimming almost 10 years ago at age 8. 

I’ve had a lot of anxiety surrounding my eventual return to the pool. The amount of time it will take to regain my feel for the water is daunting, and it will be painful to settle into the routine of 20 hours of training a week. 

I sometimes even feel like my identity as a swimmer is slipping away. 

I’ll be thinking about high school Sections or States and realize, “Wow, I did that. I won the section title and placed seventh in California for my 100 fly.” 

And yet, a sense of doubt creeps in — can I race like that again?

It seems easier to give up. 

After all, I’ve seen other swimmers take time off and struggle to come back. Building habits is hard!

I just need to remind myself that I’ve experienced the emotions and fears generated by quarantine before. 

When I was 11, I swam without a team for a year. When I was 12, I had such severe shoulder pain that I had to kick for several months. I could get in the pool, but I couldn’t move my arms above my head to swim. When I was 13, I was diagnosed with scoliosis and had to wear a back brace for 14 months and retrain my back muscles. 

At each challenge, I felt immense anxiety about my future in swimming, and I began to question if I wanted to continue the sport.

Throughout high school, I’ve had bad swims after training for five months to lower my time and didn’t. I’ve had horrible practices that leave me in self-doubt. There have been times after practice when I was convinced I’d never set foot in a pool again.

I couldn’t have made it through high school and swimming without the support of my teachers, coaches, teammates and parents.

The Country Day faculty and staff were great cheerleaders and flexible when I missed school for weeks at a time to attend swim meets. I’m not sure I could have missed more than 20 days a year for swimming at another school. 

Ms. Bauman, Ms. J, Mr. Billings, Mr. Hinojosa, Ms. Batarseh, Ms. Nellis, Mr. Millsback  and Mr. Mangold: I will miss you all, and I can’t thank you enough for your knowledge, your teaching skill and our discussions. 

You have prepared me well for whatever academic challenges I will seek in college. 

And Ms. Fels, although I never had you as my English teacher, I am eternally grateful for allowing me to write these blogs.

Coach Billy Doughty, thank you for taking me when I was on the verge of an existential crisis about swimming. 

You helped me get through the loss of my graduated training and traveling partners. The last 18 months made swimming fun again and made me concentrate on new things that propelled me through the water. 

Coach Ray Wieser, you surprised me with your ability to calm my nerves and beat back my anxiety. 

Coach Brian Nabeta, you gave me the chance. I wasn’t supposed to swim in your group because of my shoulders, but I decided to ask anyway. I met a great group of kids to train with and show me the ropes. I dropped insane amounts of time that first four months, and we didn’t even have a pool to train in the first month! 

And you helped me get Quaffle. I never believed in myself as much as I did during those four months of my freshman year. Thanks to you and the silly bet I made with my mom, Quaffle the Saint Bernard came to be. She is the ultimate reminder of what you helped me accomplish and what I continued in high school swimming. 

To my teammates: Swimming is not an individual sport. I needed each of you to show up and do your best so I could also do my best. 

It takes a team to get better, and I am so lucky to have had you all in my swim life. From my first swim friends on the Truckee Tahoe Swim Team to all of my DART Davis and DART Sacramento teammates, I truly love you all. 

You bring out the cackle in me (insert video of the laughing fox here).

A huge shout-out to my parents: You’ve dedicated 10 years to help me chase my dreams. You were always there and always asked if I tried my best. That is all you ever expected. No one is prouder of my successes and no one feels as gutted, except me, when things don’t go well. 

I could not have done this without your sacrifices to support me. I could never thank you enough. 

The most important lesson I’ve learned from staying with swimming is that one practice or race doesn’t define you as a person. It’s what you decide to do to improve that makes you who you are. 

Thank you to my first coach, three-time Olympic gold medalist Debbie Meyer, for teaching me this guiding principle. It’s been invaluable in helping me get back on my feet after each challenge.

And that concludes the Chlorine Chronicles. 

I don’t know when the world will be back or when swimming will resume, but at some point, I know they will. 

Getting back into my swimming routine might be the hardest thing I’ll have to do, as I’ll be starting basically from square one. The first practices will be tough, and I will probably be bombarded with thoughts of quitting. 

But I will not let them win. I will be ready to dive back in.

— By Rebecca Waterson

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