Josephine O'Grady

United States

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Decisions at Swim Practice

July 14, 2015

Through my goggles, I can see the wall of the pool getting closer and closer. Taking one last stroke, I turn on my side, kicking hard, and touch the wall; my head still underwater. 

"Good finish, Josie," Coach Janice praises me. 

I nod briskly to my swim coach, but inside I am beaming. Freestyle is my best stroke, and I am told I am a great sprinter, but I hadn't yet been able to finish on my side correctly until now. I leave a mental note in my head to remind myself to practice the finish later, so I don't forget it.

"Four laps freestyle, all-out sprint," Coach Megan instructs the girls in my lane. "Ready, go!"

Because I am the first in my lane, I kick off the wall and start swimming. My legs start a fast, controlled kick, and my arms go in and out of the water like a windmill. It makes me want to go faster, faster, faster. So I do. Each breath I take comes out as a gasp because I am using every bit of my energy for the thrill of speed.

I finish the lap and touch the wall, breathless, not only from the exhaustion one feels after sprinting, but also because it makes me feel so powerful. And I want to do it again and again. A few seconds later, the other girls finish to the wall.

"Good job, girls," says Coach Megan. "Two laps freestyle easy."

"Easy, Josie. Easy," Katelyn teases me.

I grin at her. "I'll try," I say, and begin swimming.

This time, I let the water wrap around my muscles, soothing me as I swim, more slowly this time. I once more finish to the wall. When I look up, I see Coach Janice studying Katelyn and me.

"Josie and Katelyn, move on over to the next lane," she says.  

Little sensations of pride are rippling like the pool, surging through my chest. Coach Janice thinks I am good enough to swim with the older kids! I take a quick glance back at my old lane, the one I had swum in for three years. In that lane, I had learned to work hard at swimming to get the approval of my coaches and the respect of the other girls, who had all been swimming longer than I, and were not thrilled to have a new girl in their lane. It was that respect and hard work that had earned me my front--and sometimes second--spot in the lane. I look toward my new lane, and I realize I will have to earn that all over again. I glance back at Gabby, who is going to lead the lane now that Katelyn and I are moving up. Being the leader of a lane means keeping track of every lap, so that you swim the right amount of laps. It also means swimming faster than anyone else in the lane. This is power and respect that Gabby has never been interested in. Even through her goggles, she looks annoyed. I can tell she's not any happier with the arrangement than I am. It's hard to work your way up from the bottom, I think. You're so respected in the top spot.

I nod to Coach Janice, and Katelyn and I move over to the next lane. 

When we cross into the next lane, Luke and Marco move by to let us pass. They have always preferred to stay at the back. I turn and see that Coach Collen is walking toward us to tell us what to do next. So I move closer to the wall, to get ready to swim. Then I see Lauren standing in front of me, staring, as though she is waiting for something. 

Katelyn bites her lip. "Um, Josie," she says. "Lauren wants that spot."

I look down. Everything suddenly seems to be moving slower.

Then, I look up at Lauren's annoyed face. I don't feel anger--only surprise, surprise that Lauren has enough power to push around the other girls. It also amazes me that Katelyn would stick up for Lauren. Does Lauren give off enough of a vibe that other girls think that she should get what she wants?

I next think of what I should do. Speak up? If so, what would I say? How would it make others, aside from Lauren, feel? What would their reactions be? What would Lauren's reaction be?

It isn't that I wanted that spot in the lane so much, I decide. It is that Lauren knows she can push the other girls around--which is something I won't stand for. But I am also not the kind of person who goes rushing into arguments. I recall all those times I ignored what the other girls said, instead proving I was as good as they were. And things turned out alright. I had to pick my battles--but the ones I avoided, I needed to show I was strong, and wouldn't be bossed around.

I make my decision. "Sure," I say briskly. "That's fine with me." I step back, and Lauren moves in front of me. Once she starts swimming and is far enough away, I go under, and push off the wall. Once again, my feet kick, fast and controlled, and my arms slice through the water, moving fast, like a windmill. I think back to Lauren standing in front of me, waiting for me to move back, and let her take that spot. I am strong, I think to myself. It makes me swim faster. I finish the final lap, touch the wall, and come up for air.


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