Saturday, July 27, 2013

Champs: Rite of Passage

Our second summer of swim team has officially come to a close with the culminating end-of-season event known as Champs.  Over 2,000 swimmers from 17 different local teams gathered at University of Virginia over two days to compete against each other in medleys, relays, and individual events.  We missed Champs last year because of Camp Laguna, but this year, our calendar was wide open....

(Editor's note: I fear this post might become Michener-esque in its length, yet, like Michener, I am compelled to begin at the beginning of swim meet history.)  And so:

Wednesday nights are meet nights.  Meets begin at 4:45 and last well into the night, sometimes bringing us home at 11:00 or later and can include lengthy drives into neighboring counties.  We wait out the storms in our cars, huddle under umbrellas during torrents of rain, sweat it out in the stifling heat and humidity, and contend with every gnat and mosquito in the nearby vicinity, week after week.  We schlep coolers stuffed with food and snacks, camping chairs and blankets, towels and dry clothes, and bags stockpiled with toys and books for entertainment between events.

We volunteer to work as timers, runners, table workers, and volunteer coordinators.
 We rouse our kids early for 7 a.m. swim practice, or coax them to sleep after the 7 p.m. practice session ends - day after day, week after week.  Non-swimmer friends think that this schedule is the epitome of insane, or torture, or both. And it is.

Yet despite these formidable challenges and exhausting time commitments, swim team is arguably the highlight of our summer.  Evening practice becomes social hour for all the parents, affording both moms and dads the chance to catch up, to linger after practice has ended, to make plans for impromptu cookouts the next day.  The "village" comes alive at swim meets, where everyone knows everyone else's kid, and cheers his victories, big and small.  The village parents understand the teary joy of watching your kid cross the pool for the first time in his first meet, and offer a look of understanding and appreciation for the relief and pride so clearly evident on your face.
Older kids entertain the younger ones with card games, chasing games, and mischief of one kind or another.

Other parents pitch in to help with your kids when they see you've got your hands full.

The coaches, with their seemingly endless exuberance for all things swim, rally our kids when they are tired, encourage them when they are discouraged, and celebrate with them over each goal reached, each accomplishment achieved.  They are role models who love our kids, and who are loved in return.
Coach Carly with Leo after his 1st place finish in his heat at Champs
Champs is all of this, times 10.  I was prepared for a long meet, for a hot wait outside under a tent, for lots of swimmers.  I was wholly unprepared, however, for the enormity of the event, for the anxiety of seeing your kid on a massive swim deck while you elbow your way into the overcrowded, overheated bleachers for a glimpse of seeing him swim, for how intimidating and huge the UVA facility is.  I mean, c'mon, the first thing I spotted was this:
Really?  My kids are swimming in the same pool where 11-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte set a record?

I hold just two benchmarks for a successful swim meet:  Did anyone drown?  No.  Did you have fun?  Yes.  But this time, before such a massive audience, I was so proud of my kids for just showing up.  I don't know that I could have done the same at their age, or perhaps even now. 
Looking especially tiny on deck at the UVA pool
It was an amazing experience to witness, to watch, to be a part of. I saw former colleagues whom I'd met ten years ago before any of us even had kids, each of us cheering on our children.  I ran into moms I used to be in playgroups with, or met at TumbleBuddies, or at music class with preschoolers.  I cheered on a teenager from church, and chatted with another one of my church youth who was there to support her friends.  I saw a kid I taught last summer at reading clinic and watched our high school neighbor compete for a different team, blowing away the competition.  Jeff chatted with doctors and nurses he knew from his years on the floor, and professors he worked with in the diabetes research lab so many years ago.  Our mail carrier sought out our boys in the tent and cheered their successes.  Indeed, the meet was more than just the end of the season.  The village at Champs extended far beyond the normal Wednesday night meets; the folks gathered that day represent some of the very best of our lives these past ten years.

After packing up the last of the camping chairs and clearing out the trash from the cooler, I guided a weary Aidan back to our car and reflected on this rite of passage - not for him, but for me.  (My parents, who are forevermore saints in my book, rescued Leo and Pax halfway through the meet so they were spared the long hot wait for Aidan to finish).  Although we are well past some of the hallmarks of the earliest years of parenting (diapers and baby gates are becoming a distant memory) and are practiced enough in some enduring passages (middle of the night puking and perfecting the Stink Eye), a new badge was earned at Champs.  It was a rite of passage to make it through to the end of the season. The countless hours spent waiting through practices and meets, wrangling tired children, weathering the storms, and wringing out sweat-soaked shirts faded into distant memory.  None of that mattered anymore, because the 30-second to minute-long intervals of watching my kids make their own personal best times in front of hundreds of people in an enormous pool seared itself into the long-term storage bin of my heart and my mind.

Some favorite moments:
First place finish for Leo!
My little ducky - his coach, dubbed Mama Duck (Maria), gave each of them a duck hat to wear

Aidan preparing for his freestyle swim - looking so confident and focused!
Pleased with his 7 second time improvement on 50 Freestyle - such a strong swim!

Second place in his heat on backstroke - yeah!

The end of swim.... is it time for winter warm ups yet??

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ms. Carter, at first you made me tear up then these water droplets started to form and out and over my cheeks they went. I see sooooo many of my own feelings (from an old swim MOM) in your words- better said then I could ever do. It does take a "swim" village but what great kids swimming turns out!!! THANK YOU doesn't do this justice but thank you for the memories and for all to come. CUADPUL!!!