The IASAS swimming tournament in Manila can be summed up in one word: epic. The privilege of competing in IASAS is not something that one can gets automatically just by being a member of the Varsity team – only those who are deemed to have earned their spot are selected. I had my last race ever last Saturday. It wasn’t an individual event – it was a relay (400m freestyle). For this race, there were four people in each relay team, and each person in a relay team had to swim 4 laps (100m) each. My individual time for 100m freestyle was around 1:09 (I think, I have to check this up). Not only was it my last race, but it was the last race of the entire three-day tournament.
We were pumped up like crazy. It was amazing – all I had in my mind was doing well in the relay. What happened the previous two days of the tournament were irrelevant – we (the relay team) had to focus ourselves on what was happening there and then – in the present. We had a few minutes to get ourselves ready because the girls 400m free relay went before us. I wanted to cheer for our girls relay team, but both I and my relay teammates were just too busy getting ready for our race. The other five teams were also there behind the timers and the diving blocks, stretching, watching the progression of the girls’ relay and performing their personal pre-race rituals.
At the conclusion of the girls’ relay (I don’t remember what place our girls finished), I got together with my relay teammates. We needed to do well in this race – relays were were double the points one could earn in an individual race, and the points were desperately needed by the whole team. Before the race started, other members of the swim team who weren’t in the relay began cheering. Though it wasn’t enough to get my nerves down, it got me ready for the race and made me feel energetic.
I wasn’t the first/starting swimmer for the relay – I was swimmer number three. The first relay swimmers stood by the diving blocks awaiting the starter’s whistle. But before that happened, the announcer introduced each relay team to the crowd of watching swimmers and spectators. When we were introduced, the cheers for us were louder than the rest (I swear it was). Afterwards, everything became silent. The starter blew the three whistles, indicating that the first swimmers should step on the blocks. Then yelled out through the speakers, “take your mark,” and then a beep signaled the start of the race. Suddenly you could hear the deafening cheers from spectators sitting at the bleachers and at the other end of the pool.
I continued my pre-race ritual of swinging my arms and stretching as the first swimmer completed his leg of the race. He kept up with the others. As he neared the completion of his fourth lap, the second swimmer stepped onto the blocks and began his relay start, which consisted of following the approaching swimmer with his hands outstretched, with his hands getting closer to his feet as the approaching swimmer approached (for lack of a better word). As the swimmer was an arm’s length away from the wall, the second swimmer swung his arms forward allowing him to gain maximum distance on his dive, and began the second 100m of the race.
I was up next. The anchor (the fourth and last swimmer) reminded me of the importance of this race: we needed to do well, the team needed the points. As the second swimmer neared the completion of his leg of the race, I stepped up on the block, and began the motions of the relay start. And off I went.
I’m a mid-distance swimmer, so I can swim 50-200m events. As I was swimming 100m, I had to sprint all-out. I had to maintain a fast stroke, yet at the same time ensure that my pull could get me far enough, and that my legs remained kicking. It was tempting to look at the other lanes underwater and see how they were faring, but I didn’t. If I turned my head and looked at the other lanes, I would have been slower. In contrast to being above water, all I could hear as I sprinted were the splashes of my stroke and the breaths I took. I’m the kind of person who thinks about everything at once. All I had in my head was finishing that race, and finishing it well. I didn’t worry about what would happen the next day, or regret my poor performance in two of my individual events the previous day. For the first time ever, my mind was in the present.
Everything went smoothly: my stroke was long but fast, my legs continued kicking, and my turns were in good order. My heart beat faster and faster as I completed my last lap. In order to go as fast as possible, I had to keep myself from breathing. When I touched the wall, the anchoring swimmer dove off, and I climbed out through the right side of the pool. When the race was done, the coach told me that I broke my 100m free time, from 1:09 (I have to check this) to 1:02.
We finished third, and got a bronze medal for the race. My last race ever.