Swim Team by Cindy Jewkes

“Skylar, it’s time to GO!” I hollered while ushering Robbie and Nash into the family minivan. Goldfish crackers were permanently smashed into the carpets, and there was a neon yellow stain near Nash’s seat from spilled slime during a road trip.

“I’m coming!” came Skylar’s voice from the bathroom.

“Don’t forget your swim bag!”

The boys climbed into their seats as I walked around the car to the driver’s side. Skylar came bursting out of the house, swim bag slung over her shoulder, dirty blonde hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, and jumped into the car.

My favorite alternative rock station blasted some awesome beats through our speakers as we drove to the pool a few neighborhoods over. This was our first summer doing swim team. Practice was every day for a half hour in a beautiful, outdoor neighborhood pool, and today was our third day. To make things even better, there was a fenced-in park where the boys could play while Skylar swam. It was so nice to be able to sit and watch Skylar swim while knowing the boys were safe, having fun, and not getting into trouble.

I joined a club swim team when I was in seventh grade. My best friend had done swim team for years and had been trying to talk me into it for a long time, but it was fairly expensive so my parents didn’t want to commit until I was ready. When I finally joined, I was mostly just excited to spend more time with my best friend, while my mom saw it as an opportunity to help me get some exercise. We both got what we wanted.

I’ve never been athletic. I was always picked last for teams in elementary school, and I even cut PE in high school to get out of running. My brothers, doing what brothers do, teased me mercilessly about my big hips and cellulite, contributing to my extremely poor body image. My grandfather always told me to “just push away” from the table so I wouldn’t eat too much. My friends were all skinny, and I was acutely aware of how I didn’t seem to fit into the mold of what a girl “should” look like. I know now that’s a bunch of crap, and I wish I could tell my younger self that it’s ok not to look like everyone else. I don’t want to sound cliché, but joining swim team truly changed my life. It helped me learn to push through when things were hard, and to celebrate what my imperfect body could do. I wasn’t particularly good at swimming when I started, but it was fun. Plus, I got to hang out with my friend, though she was considerably faster than I was so swam in a different lane.

As I swam, day in and day out, I changed. My body grew stronger and leaner, but more importantly, I gained confidence. I started in the slow lane, then little by little, I moved up to faster, more experienced groups. I learned that I COULD do hard things. It didn’t happen overnight, but the foundation I built in middle school club swimming set me up for success on my high school swim team. I was moved up to varsity swimming as a sophomore, and my coach excitedly talked about all my potential. This was such a huge thing for me, the chubby, unathletic girl who was always picked last for things. To have someone talk about me as an asset to the team was so different. To find a sport that I was actually good at felt incredible and vindicating. The confidence and strength I found through swimming is something I carry with me and draw on today.

I pulled the car up to the pool and let Skylar hop out and run in while I parked. We were running late, again.

“Ok boys, be good at the park. Nashie, remember: if you need to go potty, find a BATHROOM. Do NOT pee on the playground like last time. Do you understand?”

“Ok!” Nash said sweetly, but I knew better than to trust those big brown eyes.

Off they ran to play while I found a seat. The swimmers jumped into the pool and started warm up with two laps of freestyle. My heart burst with pride as Skylar kicked off the wall and started stroking down the pool, breathing on both sides. Many adult swimmers I knew could only breathe on one side, so it was awesome that she was practicing breathing on both sides. She’s so innately talented! Halfway down the pool, she stopped stroking, apparently tired, and started doing a combo of butterfly kick and some kind of corkscrew/spin move with her arms and torso. If I hadn’t known better, I might have thought she was drowning.

Well, we can’t win them all, I thought, rolling my eyes internally, and smiled. Practice continued in a similar fashion—Skylar pushing off the wall, doing about six or so really great strokes, then half-assing it the rest of the way down the pool.

Use your arms, Sky! Up, out, and around! Stop jumping off the floor! It was true—when she decided to stop using her arms, she dropped her feet and hopped off the ground as far as she could before the pool got too deep.

Relax, she’s having a good time. She’s not going to get it perfectly right away. If you’re too critical, she’s not gonna want to come back.

This internal dialogue volleyed in my head as I watched, torn between wanting her to do her best, and wanting her to have fun and grow to love the sport I held dear. I wanted her to learn that she could do hard things. Technique would come in time, so I bit my tongue and resolved to focus on the positive.

After practice, she splashed her way to the ladder and climbed out.

“Where’s my towel?” she asked, digging through her swim bag. “Ugh! I left it in the bathroom.”

“You’ll just have to shake dry before you get in the car. It’s OK, it’s nice and warm out. You’ll dry quick.” I patted her shoulder. “Let’s go get your brothers,” I said as we walked toward the park. The boys were playing happily, shoes nowhere in sight.

“Robbie and Nash, it’s time to go! Where are your shoes?” They had apparently squirreled their shoes away under the slide for safekeeping, which was fine. I considered myself lucky to find them after only a short search.

The boys dashed ahead to the car and pulled on the handles repeatedly before I could unlock the doors remotely with my key.

“How was practice, Sky?” I asked.

“Awesome! I made a new friend. And I loved jumping off those block thingies.”

“You did a great job! I love watching you swim. Isn’t it cool that you get to swim every day this summer?” I asked.

“Yep! This summer is gonna be the best!”

“Mommy!” Nash’s sweet voice came from behind me. “I didn’t pee at the park!”

I glanced at him in my rearview mirror and grinned. “Good job, buddy. I’m proud of you!”