This summer our family forayed into new athletic territory with my daughter joining the community pool swim team, the Sharks. Ever since she was a baby Adelina has been comfortable in the water. She has always liked taking baths and playing in water, viewing water as a friendly playmate instead of a cold and grasping enemy like my oldest son. Adelina is always the first one to suggest swimming for an outing and she is the first one in the water once we get there. I have never been much of a water person myself, but when the opportunity to join the swim team came along and she showed interest I was not going to stand in the way. I always thought she would be good at sports because she is agile and strong and I wanted to encourage her to take up sports just the same as I would for my sons.
The very first practice was in the evening in the middle of June. Adelina ran over to join the knot of other swimmers gathering in front of the coaches and soon they were in the water. Adelina flailed about and had to stop and tread water a couple times as she made her way across. It took her quite a while to get there compared with most of the other swimmers and she and another girl were really struggling behind everyone else. I was relieved. I wasn’t sure they would want her but I knew she had satisfied the minimum requirement for the team which was to swim across the pool 25 yards without going to the wall or one of the lane lines. She had some unexpected trouble lifting herself out of the pool from the edge and collapsed onto the ground in a heap once she got there. On later swims she tried to swim over to the ladder if she could when the coaches were not looking. I’m not sure what the water temperature was but it was a breezy day and when the wind blew across your wet body it must have been pretty cold because Adelina and a couple other girls were uncontrollably shivering during the long intervals of gruff instruction from the coaches as they stood poolside. This instruction must have been overwhelming for Adelina because I had never taught her the proper arrangement of limbs when one is propelling oneself through the water mostly due to the fact that I have no idea. I could get by with a mean doggie paddle that masqueraded as a freestyle stroke if need be, but I had never learned a thing about real swimming outside of treading water and the dead man’s float in case I was ever marooned at sea. In addition to most of the other girls gliding through the water more adeptly than her, Adelina didn’t know anyone on the team so no one much cared how much she was struggling just to get across the pool. A few times she missed the coaching altogether because she took so long to get there that the coach had to start instruction without her. I could feel her loneliness inside me as she stood outside the circle of swimmers, too small to see what the coach was demonstrating and too tired to care. She was exhausted and shivering and driven to tears twice that first day of practice. My heart went out to her and I pumped my fist to give her encouragement, to give her the message to keep doing her best. I knew she could do it. I also knew she had too much pride to walk away right then, but I wondered if she was really going to go through with it after this first day. We had not committed to anything yet, we had a week to decide and now she may not even want to come back tomorrow. Now that I began to get more information about how much time and money it was going to cost us I was no longer so eager to push her to do it, I was going to leave it entirely up to her. If she didn’t want to do it then I could understand because I had never joined the swim team or loved to swim that much, swimming always left me cold, wet and miserable. She definitely did not look like she was having much fun.
But by the time we were pulling up into the driveway back home Adelina announced she would go back again the next day. I was so proud of her for taking on the challenge and I told her so. I also told her that swim practice would never be as hard as it was that first day but she should always remember how it felt and that way she could always see how much she has progressed.
Swimming is a big commitment when it comes to team sports with its morning practices and swim meets that can last up to four hours, but despite all the time and money we’ve spent this summer at the pool, it is all worth it when I see Adelina and her proud collection of swimming ribbons she has won, both of us knowing how far this little shark has come in the last five weeks.