City Swim Meet: Water World meets Lord of the Flies

Heat Sheet

Go time at the University of Tennessee!

Talk about living vicariously through your kids. The City Swim Meet at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville is the living definition of that. Having missed out on the traditional college experience I always enjoy going to the UT campus, which conveniently sits just 10 minutes from my house. The first pic is the kid’s events for the day to include time, heat and lane. There was my 8 year old in the program for a real live competition with hundreds of other kids from all round the Knoxville area. My nerves were waking up.

The kid? Well he could care less. Maybe it’s that deal where he’s too young to feel magnitude. For me the magnitude of this was enormous. Very soon after arriving I would be taking him down to this giant holding pen where he would await the call for his first race. As his races were all so close together I thought this might be the last time I got to talk to him until the end of the meet. That meant he would be on his own in the huge swim arena, jumping into that huge pool, racing all those other kids and the best I could do would be sit in the stands and watch, helplessly. You bet your ass I was nervous.

meditation.jpg

Keeping his head while all about him lose theirs.

There he is, in the 2nd pic, sitting like a Jedi in deep contemplation. Sat like that for almost 6 minutes. I only started to watch the clock after Mrs Frank’s Place texted to ask if he was nervous. I sent her this pic and then realized he had been like that for a few minutes. He had just returned from his first race, the individual freestyle, to the team tent, waiting for the call for his individual backstroke event. From that 6 minute meditation came this bit of discovery. Daddy, if they let me be on the team next year I’m gonna race the breast stroke too. So we were both feeling the moment. My moment was giving me irritable bowel syndrome, his moment was apparently giving him the taste for blood.

Honestly I started not to recognize him. I usually take him to the evening swim practices during the week. I’ve never seen him be very competitive. But after this weird little moment and then his backstroke event, I realized he was finally feeling the spirit of competition. In that race he started 9th. Of course he starts every race last because he watches the other kids and won’t dive until they do. He’ll never false start that’s for sure. But he puts himself behind right from the jump.  But unlike most meets and practices, in the pool at UT he found a new gear.

Backstroke

Amazing what a competitive atmosphere can do. Or maybe he’s juicing. Hard to tell.

By the halfway point he had drawn even with most of the field and I figured on a decent finish. But he kept going and touched the wall for third. He’s best finish to date. Shaved serious time off his previous best. I was ecstatic. He was more interested in the shaved ice truck sitting outside the door where the swimmers came out after they were done. I tried not to yell like a crazy parent. I can’t tell you if I did or not. I was in a bit of a euphoric haze. And I ain’t ashamed to admit it.

Don’t let the title fool you. It was a great event. We had a great time. It was well run and organized inside the arena. However, outside the arena, the staging area, the place I began to refer to as the pen, was at times bedlam, and most times utter chaos. In the midst of that chaos was one dude, a sentinel of sorts, already hoarse from the Friday events. One man against a tide of kids and screaming parents.

We had three kids going in the same heat in the backstroke. We went to the pen before they called for us. From his view it looked like a relay team and he motioned to me. They were in the midst of being overrun by relay teams of 8 and 9 year old boys and girls. Some squads had two and three relay teams. The commotion was caused by relay teams showing up without all four members. But mostly it was caused by parents trying to show they knew better than the sentinel. It was crazy. When the sentinel motioned to me I spoke before he wasted more of his dwindling voice. Hey man, we’re early. We’re not the relay team, just early for the backstroke, event 42.

the pen

The sentinel is in there somewhere. And this was a dull moment. It’s Lord of the Flies in there!

I got a quick nod of appreciation from the sentinel and he went back to stemming the tide of rebellion in his little fenced in island. I put an important mental note away for the future. When Frank’s relay event comes up don’t come to the pen without the full team and let the dude be the dude. I say this to Tracy all the time when we go out to eat. Let the waiter be the waiter we’ll just be the eaters. Well on this day we were just the swimmers. Some of the other parents had figured this out as well and you could see them standing back a bit waiting for the din to die down. That moment never came.

It wasn’t until the kids began to get past the sentinel and dictate to their parents what should be happening that I pulled Frank back to the other side of the lot where all this was going on. He was getting real tired of all this and I could see it was weighing on him. Finally the relay teams moved into the arena and it was Frank’s turn to enter the pen to wait for his race. When the sentinel came up to me I just had to ask him. Who did you piss off to get this job?  But the sentinel’s job is never done and he was back at the chaos, moving kids to arena. Time for me to get in there too. That’s where I watched my kid rip off a personal best and finish third in his heat after all that nonsense outside.

Later as the meet ended Frank’s coaches mentioned the same guy does that job every year. He actually volunteers for it. God bless that poor bastard. I assume the job gets a little easier as the kids get older. So this must be some sort of purgatory or something. Either way the sentinel was the real MVP that day. And because of him my 8 year old wants to drop boy scouts and fall baseball so he can work on his swimming for next year.

freestyle1

Small kid. Big pool.

As one of my friends said, if Frank gets long like his grandfather, my dad, he’ll go far in swimming. I have no issue with that. It’s a great sport. And after this City Meet deal I’m hooked too. I mean look at the last pic. That’s Frank in Lane 7 in the same pool Michael Phelps and the rest of the 2012 Olympic swimmers trained in during the run up to the London games.

That is a small kid in a big pool. He’s just starting to find his stroke. I’d much rather walk golf course seeing his smooth swing but I admit I wouldn’t mind spending my retired years going to college pools to watch this kid swim.

Wonder what the sentinels are like at that level?

 

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Swim Team and the Swim Meet that Never Ends.

You know it all seems so cool, seems so awesome. What could be better than being a competitive swimmer?

Since I was a kid the TV brought scenes of Olympic swimmers during their meets, and events, and heats. Watching the US Swim Team crush everyone in Los Angeles during the 84 summer games was amazing. That was the Olympics of Rowdy Gaines, Pablo Morales, Dara Torres, and Mary Meagher. The US bagged 21 gold medals. From there we got Atlanta and then Sydney and the first appearance of then unknown Michael Phelps from Baltimore. The coverage of swimming at the Los Angeles Olympics all the way through the latest games in Rio has been breathtaking.

Not Torres and Gainey. Still super cool though.

You want to know what that coverage wasn’t? Accurate.

Now I’m not saying it was fake news. No, everything we saw was real. What I’m saying is we didn’t get to see everything. Lie by omission? Probably not. But if the unwashed, such as myself, could see what went into to those super cool swim meets, what happened behind the scenes… Well let’s just say my kids might have had to live with a very non-super cool ten dollar slip and slide during the summer instead of the swim team they go to each day.

Swim team practice itself is great. Takes an hour and they can go to the morning session or the evening session or both. Two nights a week the evening session is on the campus at the University of Tennessee. That’s way cool.

Practice is just what you might expect. Swimming. They literally swim laps for an hour. Great exercise and they do it every day. In the final few minutes of practice any kid who wants to can jump from the diving board. Mine have really enjoyed that part. They used to be deathly afraid, now even AM jumps right off. The confidence building in them both is visible.

But the swim meets. My god the swim meets. Tuesday night was my first time. What an indoctrination. My wife and kids got there around 4pm. The meet started at 6. I got there around 5:45. I was greeted by utter chaos only to be told by a dad from the other team that this was one of the most organized meets he had seen so far. No one from my family had seen me yet. The desire to flee was palpable. Instead I braced and forged on.

Should have run when I had the chance.

I found my wife at the check in tent, volunteering as usual. The kids appeared soon after with colorful but weird markings on their bodies. Across their backs, a sharpie induced tattoo of their last name. On the underside of their forearm some hieroglyphics that looked something like this: 12/1/1.

That bit of info indicates his event, heat and lane. So for that example he would race in event 12, be in heat 1, and swim in lane 1. Frank swam in 4 events so he had a mini European train schedule on his arm. But once it was explained to me it was easy to follow. Until I took a closer peak.

Frank why does the last one say 42/3/3?

Cause I swim in lane 3 for my last race.

Wait are you saying you are swimming in event 42? Tracy is he swimming in event 42? There are 42 events?

The answers were yes, yes and no. Absolutely should have run before I was made.

Yes he was swimming in event 42, but no there are not 42 events. There are 72. I’ll write that out for you non-numerically inclined. A swim meet has seventy-two events. And every swimmer swims at least one event. The opposing team had 160 swimmers added to our 60+ swimmers.

Frank is not even that good at this and he was swimming the maximum allowed four events. He was slated for events 12, 22, 32, 42. Great for ease of counting, not great for getting to bed anytime before midnight. Once more, there are multiple heats to each event. So from the above example Frank swam the first heat in event 12, but there were 4 heats in that event. So event 13 did not occur until all heats for event 12 were finished. And of course we had a record breaking 8 heats in event 16. Of course we did.

AM was easy. She swam 11/1/1. Event eleven as it turns out was very early on in the festivities. Problem: Wife was volunteering the whole meet, and I had to stay for all of Frank’s races. Issue: AM has to hang out waiting for her brother to finish his last race in the third heat of event 42. Forty two?!?! How do I tell a kid she has to sit there and watch other people swim but she, still in a bathing suit, can’t go in the water? The waiting is a lesson in endurance. And for a 5 year old she did great.

And yeah we blew town the minute he emerged from the water after his last race. Look I’m all for team work and team spirit and all that other business, but it’s Tuesday night, quickly becoming Wednesday morning. I don’t even want to tell you what time I get up for work. (4:30am) but there is a good chance they still might be swimming when I’m hopping in the shower before heading to the office.

I ran into a friend who was volunteering as a lane watcher or something. His kid was swimming in event 64. Poor bastard. I almost passed out when he told me. Speaking of… did I mention it was 98 bazillion degrees out there? Mrs Frank’s Place was almost a causality. Which is bizarre really. To pass out or suffer from the heat or dehydration a mere five steps from a large pool of water would be one of the universe’s cruel ironies.

All my whining aside it was a great thing. To see your kids perform in an environment like that at such a young age is a treasure. Coach Joe is an amazing dude. He is responsible for running the meet when it’s at our pool. By all accounts it went off without a hitch. Which is staggering considering all the logistics that go into something like that. So kudos to him and the staff and Team Smokin Salmon!

Here are few shots from the swim meet that never ends.

Starting Block Lane 4 – Individual Back Stroke

Frank reaching for the wall – Individual Back Stroke

 

 

 

 

 

 

So intent on a competitor he forgot to put his goggles down – Individual Breast Stroke

AM in her first ever race – Individual Free Style

So yeah it sucked in some aspects. And now that I know what to expect and how to prepare it will suck a whole lot less next time. But there was a whole lot of greatness happening too.

The camaraderie Coach Joe has cultivated on a swim team with kids as young a 5 and as old as 18 is amazing. Older kids I’ve never met stopped to congratulate AM on her first race as they were on the way to check in for theirs.

In a middle of the road type race, Frank’s kick in the final stretch of the Individual Backstroke got him from 6th to 4th, picking up valuable points for his team. Honestly I thought I was the only one who noticed. Wrong again. Several people came over to him with encouragement and excitement of his final move in the last few meters.

When Frank was so focused on beating one of the kids from the other team off the block he forgot to slide his goggles down over his eyes. He went the whole race without them. He took the kid from the block and at the wall. Mission accomplished.  Two of his coaches were laughing. There goes Frank the Tank without his goggles. No he has goggles, he’s just not using them.

The kid has a nick name. Who knew? An easy alliteration of his name to be sure. But apparently it also refers to his determination to do something like prove he can swim the length of the pool without moving his arms, jump from the diving board without getting his hair wet, and swim a race with his goggles on his head instead of his eyes because he was intent on getting off the block first.

The things you learn about your kids.

It’s a good squad with good coaching. We are lucky to have this experience. And my kids are learning important life lessons from swimming I thought they might only get from golf.

Hmmm Swim Team, who knew?

 

 

 

Swim Team: Really?

So swim team. Yeah. Swim team. I’m just at a loss here. It’s a great thing but I just did not see that coming. Sure the kids love the pool, they like “swimming” if you can call it that. But swim team sounds so official, and hard, and ya know might require some ability.

Let’s just face some facts here. Or at least let’s face one very important fact; the freaking kids can’t swim. There I said it. They can not swim. So swim team seemed a bit ambitious. Swim lessons sounded more reasonable. But as usual Mrs Frank’s Place would not be swayed. She was on swim team as a kid so our kids will be on swim team. End of discussion. Ok then. Great dear. Good talk.

Off to swim team we go. Oh no not Mrs Frank’s Place. No, I took the day off from keeping the world safe for democracy (not really) to schlep the kids down to the community pool for their first day of swim team. One thing is clear from the outset. My absence since returning to work has had a profound affect on the timeliness of my children’s arrival at various events. That is to say they went from being 5 minutes early to being late a lot. So much so that they were a bit flustered when we arrived at the community center 10 minutes early.

What do we do now? Why are we so early? How long till we can get in the pool? Those were just a few of the whinny supplications raining down from the back seat of my car as we sat in the parking lot. Funny thing, I didn’t get mad. I started to miss being home. When we finally dismounted and headed into the pool area and the other moms started showing up I saw a few old friends from my days of toting the kids around to school, soccer practice, the Kroger, etc… Then I really missed being home.

No time to get misty. A very hip looking dude, about 14 years old if he was a day, sauntered up and introduced himself. Not to me, but to Frank. That impressed me right away. Coach Joe, a stately 3o-somthing years old, turned out to be an impressive character. I didn’t know it then but the kids were in good hands. He showed Frank where to stand to warm up and off they went. I took my seat and watched nervously. We were at the Arnstein Jewish Community Center and this joint was big. The pool was big, the school was big. It was all big and my Frank is small.

It also appeared like there was no spot for beginners. It looked like Frank was going to be tossed into the deep end with everyone else. And by the way, Frank was the only newbie. All the other kids were returning from last year. I’m not feeling it at this point I don’t mind telling you if he had walked over and said he wanted to quit, I would have said OK lets go play some golf. I even stuck his golf stuff in the trunk for just such a contingency.

As it turned out he did get tossed in the deep end. Lane 1, 12 feet of water, everyone 6/7 years old into the water and swim a lap. For you land lubbers a lap is up and back. It’s an Olympic size pool. Did I mention Frank can’t swim? Not a stroke. Although I’m having enough of those for both of us. I quick like leave my mom friends and hustle to the lane 1 side of the pool. I’m half way there as I see my very timid 7 year old just jump in, no swimmies, no nothing, and no mention to coach Joe that he can’t swim. Just jumps in and starts to paddle.

Kid can always find the camera. Gettin work done in Lane 1.

Kid can always find the camera. Gettin work done in Lane 1.

Like an old Corsair coming off the deck of the USS Hornet circa 1942, Frank disappears below the horizon and I freeze, waiting for him to rise up into the sunlight as he gains altitude. No such grandeur. A few paralyzing seconds later as I’m really moving now, his head pops up and he is moving his arms fast enough to fly, but it’s just keeping his head above water. Not a soul is freaking out about this except me. Plenty of people can see him but no one is reacting.

So I sit down and watch. His head is staying above water and he is giving maximum effort. He has moved about a quarter of the way down the lane. The other kids are sitting at the other end waiting for him. They all glided down there like they had fins. I’m really close to shutting this all down and then I see the pic above.

The kid is ecstatic. I’ve not seem him smile that broadly since the day his sister finally came home from the hospital. No way I can stop it now. So I wait and he makes it to the other end. While Frank was giving all he had, the other kids were conspiring. They had decided they were not making the return trip. When one of the assistant coaches, wearing her college swim team pullover and dark shades, went to administer a beat down, a young lad got in the first lick.

Hey lady can we get some noodles over here?!? We’re just kids ya know! If that wasn’t enough to make this kid my best friend, his follow up question as he paddled to the other end leaning on a noodle he just received cinched the deal. Hey lady, is there a chik-fil-a around here anywhere. This is my new favorite kid. No contest. However, college swim team coach didn’t get the joke and gave him the community center policy of no food in the pool area. No sense of humor in college anymore I guess. But he wasn’t done. As he swims past where I’m sitting he looks over at me and moans, This is the worst day of my life. Ever! I swear to you had I known swim team was an hour long I would have run out and got that kid some chik-fil-a.

Still the kid appeared to be gliding through the water while Frank was barely staying alive. Then one of them got out of the water. They were, in fact, wearing swim fins on their feet. Frank’s mom is old school so I knew there was no way he would be allowed to wear them. But it really didn’t matter. He had a noodle and and then a kick board. He plodded along, up and back, up and back. He swam 20 full  laps in an hour. I was stunned and extremely proud. He was dead last the entire time but he never stopped. That was huge.

I was exhausted watching him. But he never stopped. By the end of swim practice he was hooked. Unlike soccer or baseball, swim team was every day. Plus you could come at night as well. Add to that the bonus of two nights a week practice was held at the University of Tennessee Aquatic Center on campus, where the 2012 Olympic swim team practiced leading up to the London games. Pretty cool stuff. Kid even got to swim in a meet there. Yeah I said swim in a meet.

By mid summer he was competing with his team, the Smokin Salmon, (not kidding). And by competing I mean actually swimming in meets against actual opponents. One of his first meets was in the a fore mentioned pool at the University of Tennessee. I mean hell, that ain’t bad for a kid who can’t, or should I say couldn’t swim.

Hard to say enough about Coach Joe and his gang. Just an impressive dude who got maximum effort out of my kid. To see Frank swim laps for an hour and then be ready to go do it again the next day was just astounding. It’s also a testament to the way Coach Joe can motivate these kids. He’s just a kid himself for goodness sake but the proof is in the pudding.

He believes he can fly.

He believes he can fly.

The pic to the left is the icing on the cake. Frank is a kid so scared of heights I can’t give him a piggy back ride without putting him in a climbers harness and employing two spotters. Safety first. But just peep that shot. He’s jumping off the diving board without assistance or me throwing him off.

I was standing near Coach Joe and one of his assistants and they were marveling about two things. One, how far Frank had come from his first practice. The second? They were amazed how Frank could even jump from the board and still managed to keep his hair from going under water. Apparently Frank would swim the whole practice without getting his hair wet. I could have sworn his head went under the water when he jumped off the board. But when he climbed from the pool he had huge smile on his face and his hair was barely wet. Not sure how he was doing it but he was clearly intent on keeping his rug dry.

 

She can fly.

She can fly.

Here is a little more proof of Coach Joe’s inspiration. This is my then 3 year old. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time then you’re probably aware of her situation. Born at 25 weeks, weighing in at 1lb 9oz, she didn’t have much of a chance. In fact her twin sister, Linda Claire, died the day they were born. So it might have seemed a little overly dramatic to most people there watching, but I made a bit of a weeping ass of myself when Anne Marie jumped from the diving board into the deep end. Someone was apparently cutting onions near by.

 

Small victories people, small victories. And in the end swim team was a big victory. They both loved it, they both got serious exercise for over an hour five days a week during the summer, and they both competed against and with serious competition. The best part, there wasn’t a participation trophy in sight, just hard work.

Well hard work and the occasional post night practice ice cream. But that was more for me than it was them.

A little Menchie's after swim practice.

A little Menchie’s after swim practice.

 

TEAM SMOKIN SALMON!