CHLORINE CHRONICLES: Championship swim meets in the winter mean spending holidays at the pool

(Photo used by permission of Waterson)
Freshman Rebecca Waterson (front row), junior Amalie Fackenthal (back row, right) and their coach Brian Nabeta (second row, right ) sit on Texas A&M University’s bleachers with the DART 2016 Winter Junior National Team at the Winter Junior Nationals meet.

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.

For most, the holidays are a time to relax and enjoy time with family and friends. For swimmers, ‘tis the season of championship swim meets.

All through the fall we train to get qualifying times. Then in the winter we go on week-long travel meets. There are usually no parents, just chaperones, the coach and teammates. I was lucky enough to go to two such meets, the Husky Invitational in Federal Way, Washington (Dec. 2-4), and the Winter Junior Nationals in College Station, Texas (Dec. 7-10).

At the Husky Invitational, I swam many events, but the highlight of my meet was the 100 yard butterfly. This race has given me trouble because of my injured shoulders. All season my time had been dropping only a few hundredths of a second, unable to significantly improve, but this meet was different.

In the preliminary events (prelims) I was so excited I couldn’t feel anything. I almost missed my event since I wasn’t paying attention to the heats! As soon as I stepped onto the blocks, all nervousness and tension drained away, and the only thought I had was “I’m going to go a 55.”

And I did! My time was 55.74, almost three seconds better than my previous best – and fast enough to send me rocketing from 46th seed to fifth. I was going to finals!

(Photo used by permission of Waterson)
Freshman Rebecca Waterson bends on the starting blocks to begin her 100-yard fly at Texas A&M University.

In between prelims and finals, I did the worst thing a swimmer could do. I left my race suit at the pool. It wasn’t until I unpacked my bag that I realized I didn’t have my suit, and since I didn’t have my chaperone’s phone or room number, I was stuck at the hotel, anxiously hoping nobody had stolen my suit.

Back at the pool, I searched for what seemed forever, trying to find my suit. Luckily my event was next to last so I had time, but I still needed to warm up. I went up to the front desk of the facility and asked the receptionist if they had a lost-and-found, to which she snarled, “We don’t pick up any items until after the meet.”

Fear was eating at my stomach, I didn’t want to call my mom and tell her that I’d lost my suit, but at the same time it seemed to be the only option. I was sure that someone must have picked up my suit, though, so I returned to the front desk where someone else was now working. I asked if they had picked up any suit, and he went to a bin labeled “lost-and-found” and pulled out it out. I almost jumped for joy!

(Photo used by permission of Waterson)
Freshman Rebecca Waterson, second row from the bottom, launches herself into the pool at the beginning of her 100-yard race.

I still had a little bit of time before my event, so I changed and headed to the pool to warm up. I was nervous, since the swimmers I would be racing were high-school juniors and seniors and college students. As I stepped up to race, one of the girls next to me actually growled.

The intimidation didn’t work, however, because I dropped an additional .55 seconds to get a 55.19, which placed me in fourth with only a couple tenths between me and third place.

As I climbed out of the pool, my coach came running over, to tell me that I had qualified for Junior Nationals. Despite my exhaustion, I started jumping and squealing. I was going to Texas!

(Photo used by permission of Waterson)
Sophomore Joe Zales, freshman Rebecca Waterson and the other DART swimmers do their homework at the airport.

Junior Nationals was only two days after the Husky meet, and was to be held at Texas A&M University. Getting home at 1 a.m. from Washington didn’t leave me much time to make up tests and catch up on the homework from the days I’d missed – and would be missing. I was constantly thinking about my physics quiz, the four sections of math homework, the history notes I had to take and the essay to finish in English. It was worth it, however.

Visiting the Texas A&M campus was incredible: there were eight pools! I got to meet some of the fastest kids from the western half of the U.S., which was inspiring. The meet was live-streamed from the USA Swimming website, which meant cameras and reporters were everywhere. Having my swims broadcasted live was new to me.

I also had to sign a form for doping control: I couldn’t even take a Sudafed!

On the first day, my only event was the 400-yard IM relay, which meant I spent the morning spectating from the bleachers. With all the excitement from seeing teammates swim and other people breaking records, I was exhausted. Despite that, I couldn’t wait for my turn to swim the 100-yard fly!

When the time finally came for me to swim that event the next day, it didn’t feel as good as it did in Washington, but I still wasn’t far off my time. I rounded out the meet with two timed trials: “bonus” swims that you can do to try to improve your time.

At DART, high-school students are all placed in the same group. Being a freshman meant swimming with all new faces. After those two meets, I feel like I know my teammates much better (which is good because now we are back to the grind).

Overall, December is one of the most difficult times for a swimmer because of the big meets coupled with missing school. Even so, it is still my favorite time of the season since I spend so much time with my swim family.

By Rebecca Waterson

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