Winners don’t always come in first

By: 
Sonja Karp

It’s been quite a few years ago now, but for several months I took up swimming as my exercise regime. When I was young, I was pretty strong in the water, so I thought I would fare pretty well in the pool.

Turns out, I had forgotten how hard it is to swim. I remember struggling to make it just from one end of the pool to the other and it took a while for me to be able to do more than 25 or 50 yards without having to stop and gasp for breath.

Not only do you have the physical exertion, but there’s also the mental aspect of taking part in an activity where if you don’t make it to the other end, you might die!

Having revisited the sport,
I have developed a deep respect for those who swim competitively, because it is hard.

This weekend our Lady Dogies had their first home meet so, of course, I was there to photograph our girls. It’s always awesome to watch them in action and as usual, I found myself impressed by all the athletes’ strength and athleticism.

Swimming is also a sport where there is nothing but encouragement coming from teammates, coaches and fans, but I saw something so inspiring on Friday that I had to hold back tears. 

The 500 Yard Freestyle race is beyond grueling. It is 20 laps in our 25 yard pool and I can only imagine the physical and mental torture swimming that far without stopping entails.

As I marveled at the leaders’ speed in such a long race, I became drawn to one swimmer, who early on, appeared to be struggling.

As the rest of the heat finished their last leg, this swimmer still had five laps to go. 

She was in lane eight, so was right next to the edge of the pool and right in front of the stands. It was easy to see how much she was struggling.

I could see she was giving it everything she had, and I could see in her eyes that she may have been afraid that she might not make it. 

But I could also see that she wasn’t going to give up.

As she fought through those last five laps, her team was pacing the edge of the pool encouraging her with every stroke she took. 

In what I can only imagine was desperation, the girl flipped over and swam the backstroke to give herself a break from freestyle from time to time.

As she got down to the last three laps, I could see that she was continuing to swim on will alone, and when she came off the final turn she fought so hard through burning lungs and screaming muscles to finish those last 25 yards as strong as she could.

As she came to the wall, it was to a roar of appreciation and pride from, not only her teammates, but from everyone watching. She had to be helped out of the water and held up by her team as the muscles in her legs gave out a little.

Watching her obvious struggle, knowing what a hard task she had undertaken, and watching her entire team give her all the support they could put a pretty big lump in my throat.

She was the true embodiment of courage and tenacity, because I can only imagine how badly she had to have wanted to stop.

She found the grit within to power through the pain and finish, and though she came in last, she won so much more than whomever touched the wall first.

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