Is there anybody who hasn’t watched the Olympics these past two weeks and thought that maybe they could have been a contender in their younger years? I mean, I’ve never played beach volleyball before, but if someone would have told me I could don my underwear and slug balls over a net lakeside, I might have made a bigger effort in my teens.
But one sport I did put a lot of effort into in my teens was swimming, and over the course of a couple of summers I came to be one of the top contenders on our town’s team. But it wasn’t the allure of ribbons or medals that spurred me on-no, it was the attentions of a boy named Robbie.
The fact that I became an excellent swimmer at a young age was due to my good fortune of living directly across the street from the public pool while I was growing up. It was only natural that I was in it almost every day during the hot summer months. I started my swimming career as a toddler, progressing from beginner classes, to intermediate and finally into the advanced classes.
Once I became proficient at the sport, I joined the swim team that was coached by a woman named Mrs. Wronowitz. She was a tough one, and when she came on deck all goofing off ceased. She paced the pool like a tiger and screamed at us swimmers demonically. “PULL PULL PULL,” she’d holler, or “More kick, more kick MORE KICK!”
And yet, despite all these remonstrations, I just couldn’t get into the competitive spirit; I just didn’t have that drive to make me excel. That is until my dream man got involved.
Robbie was actually a lifeguard at the pool, and my girlie crush on him was huge. We were only about four years apart in age, but when you are 14 that’s a big gap. Still my hope persisted that maybe someday this lanky lad would take a liking to me, and I was always on my best behavior when he was sitting in the lofty chair looking over the swimmers.
Then one day he watched as the team practiced under the stern rule of Mrs. Wronowitz, and when I emerged from the water he made me a deal. “If you win every Individual Medley race you swim in this summer, I’ll take you out for an ice cream cone,” he proposed. I nearly swooned. This was my chance to go out with my dream man, and my ho-hum attitude about winning immediately turned gung-ho.
But the Individual Medley race is a tough one. It involves two laps each of all four competitive swimming strokes-butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke and freestyle. It’s a marathon competition that takes stamina and endurance…and lots of practice. So that’s what I did. Every minute I could get into the pool I was there, and the strident and persistent hollering of Mrs. Wronowitz took on new meaning.
I can remember with vivid clarity the first race of that year. As I stood on the block, waiting for the starting pistol to fire, I was filled with nervousness and excitement. Could I really win? Could I hold on to the speed needed to finish first? It had never happened before.
But I swam with everything I had, and when my head came up for air between strokes, I heard the roar of the crowd, and Robbie, cheering me on, and that made me even more determined. Those last two laps were killers but I forged ahead, pulling and kicking just like I had been coached. And lo and behold I won! The feeling was indescribable.
That was a record summer for me. I finally got what it was to be competitive, and each time I stepped up on that block to start a race, I eyed up my opponents like a jackal on a lamb. My line-up of blue ribbons grew from two to six to a dozen. And then we were at the last meet of the summer, and only one more race stood between me and my “date.” Only eight laps before I could claim my prize.
It was not to be. Oh…it was a close race, but I was not to taste the sweet elixir of victory. My disappointment was immeasurable, not to mention that my dream man date was down the tubes.
But you know what? Robbie was truly a gentleman, and realized how hard I had worked for that outing, and took me for ice cream anyway. As I grew older my crush on him faded, but I have never forgotten his kindness.
So as I watch the Olympics on TV, especially the swimmers, I know how they feel. I know the nervousness of waiting for the starting shot; that first gush of cold water as it pours over your body; the pain of arms and legs that are like spaghetti in the final meters, and the rush of slapping the pool edge when the race is done and victory is yours. And yes, I also know the disappointment of defeat.
It’s true that when I watched the Olympic swimmers these past two weeks, I did wonder whether I could have won gold if I had that chance. But one thing I know is for certain. There are lots of motivations in life…that the glitter of gold can be just as sweet as the lick from an ice cream cone; sometimes maybe even sweeter.
Olympian Energy Bars
31/2 cups rolled oats
4 Tbs. vanilla flavored protein powder
11/2 cups nonfat dry milk
1 Tbs. cinnamon
3/4 cup maple syrup or honey
2 egg whites
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped dates or (dried cranberries, raisins, and chopped nuts)
11/2 bananas, mashed
Mix the first four ingredients together. Mix the maple syrup or honey with the egg whites. Add orange juice, dates and banana. Mix thoroughly, then add dry mixture. Form into bars and place on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with PAM or similar product. Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 15 minutes or until the bottoms of the bars are golden brown.