CHLORINE CHRONICLES: Early Saturday swim meet in Palo Alto forces freshman to butterfly stroke with injured shoulder

(Photo used by permission of Rebecca Waterson)
Freshman Rebecca Waterson starts a backstroke race at the Arizona 2015 Holiday Swim Festival at Arizona State University.

Freshman Rebecca Waterson lives at school and the pool. You will find her catching a nap in the car on the way to practice, staring at the black line at the bottom of the pool for hours every day, being yelled at to go to bed because she has to be up in four hours for morning practice or grabbing a snack in the kitchen. Waterson writes the biweekly blog “Chlorine Chronicles” on her life as a competitive swimmer.

Saturday mornings for most people start with a family breakfast – waffles, perhaps – and a little bit of TV. My Oct. 22 Saturday, began with a two-hour drive to Palo Alto at 5:30 a.m. for a Super League swim meet.

I arrived at the pool around 8 completely exhausted and not at all ready to get into the cold water.

Shuffling onto the pool deck, I noticed some of my teammates huddled together under a tent, parkas and blankets wrapped tightly around them. They were sullenly Snapchatting, faces glued to their phone screens. With no one to talk to, I sat hunched over my homework, my blurry eyes trying to figure out imaginary and complex numbers.

Freshman Rebecca Waterson
(Photo used by permission of Waterson)
Freshman Rebecca Waterson

It really wasn’t that cold. I had been wearing layers of clothes, but standing at the edge of the pool in just my swim suit, I was shivering and dreading getting into the chilly water. My mind had turned the 60-degree air into an Arctic landscape.

Eager to finish my warm-ups so that I could dress, I jumped into the water. I tried putting on some sweat pants afterwards, but since I was in the first event of the day, (a relay), I didn’t have time to get warm again.

The relay was a 400-yard medley, and I was swimming the third leg. Butterfly.

I’ve been having a lot of shoulder issues lately from growing and training the wrong muscles to perform simple swimming tasks such as pulling. The stroke that has given me the most pain is butterfly, so for almost six months I’ve tried to let my shoulder repair itself by avoiding that stroke. I can now swim butterfly, but in short bursts and not even close to as fast as I used to.

That I had this 100-yard butterfly in the relay and then another individual 100-yard butterfly later in the day was nerve-wracking. My coach, Brian Nabeta, had placed me in the butterfly position to help strengthen my shoulders, but I was having second thoughts. My head filled with thoughts of disaster: what if I messed up my shoulder again?

Stomach churning, I warmed up again with my relay teammates. Too soon it was our turn to go up to the starting blocks. Shaking out my hands to get last-minute jitters out, I tried to calm my mind. When I stress about swim, I always think of worst-case scenarios, and here my brain was making a dozen a minute.

The leader started her 100-yard backstroke. We were the lowest-seeded and youngest relay team in our heat, but our backstroker was holding on well.

The breastroker dove in, keeping up the pace set by the older girls.

(Photo used by permission of Rebecca Waterson)
Freshman Rebecca Waterson begins to breach the water at the Arizona 2015 Holiday Swim Festival. Waterson swam in 11 events, including the 100-yard backstroke.

I climbed up on the blocks, trying to do a couple last-minute stretches before my race. The breastroker neared the wall – three, two, one, dive! The water and the bubbles tingled, the warmth of the pool contrasting with the chill of the air.

On my first stroke I knew this was not going to be a good race. I felt slow and sluggish, like a rock trying to stay afloat. My legs were deadweights behind me, and my arms, sore from the week’s workout, were starting to smart. Somehow, though, I made it. My shoulder burned, but its minute of torture was finally over.

Even though I was more than five seconds off of the time I wanted (I went a 1:02 compared to my 56-second goal time),  I was relieved to have been able to finish the race and to have our relay team place a decent eighth out of 12.

It will take many baby steps to get back to the time I want to be at, but at least I’ve started the journey.

By Rebecca Waterson

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