In the lead up to the school swimming carnival, my daughter Ashlie (who turned 9 in December) told me that she had signed up for the backstroke.
I try not to discourage my girls from trying...especially when it comes to sport and academia, but I couldn't help feel a little apprehensive when it came to this particular desire.
You see, my daughter has only had one round of swimming lessons, when she was 8. She has taken part in the intensive swimming program for school, but never really seemed to go anywhere. At the school break-up party last year, she squeezed out a 25 metre lap (the pool is half-size) so that she could pass to play in the deep end with most of her friends.
As far as we knew, she was confident enough to play and splash around, but did not have the swimming skills to do a 25m backstroke in a competition.
I was more discouraged when the time came around and I found out it was actually a 50m race. She had been practicing all week, but never more than 25m at a time. In the end, I told her just to do her best and try not to stop for a rest during the race.
Then an announcement came over the loud speaker that anyone wanting to do the 50m freestyle was quite welcome to go and sign up...so Ashlie did. Remember, this child had to squeeze out 25m only a few months ago, and has never raced before. I wasn't surprised that she came in last and had the help of a kick board thrown in to her. It didn't bode well for the afternoon backstroke.
But whatever - my girl gave it her best, and finished the race, which is all I ever tell them to aim for. I am proud of them no matter what.
The backstroke came around quickly...There were to be two heats, and the three fastest times from the two heats would go through to the next carnival. I watched Ashlie, grinning like a halloween pumpkin, drop into the water and take up her position. First heat, 4 girls. At least one of them had squad training.
You know that feeling you get when something unexpected unfolds before your eyes? Well, that's the feeling I got as I watched Ashlie power through her strokes the first 25m, and turn to keep going. No rest! Then I watched with awe and excitement as I realised she wasn't coming last. By this time I had made my way to the blocks where she would finish and watched with some kind of emotion that both choked me and made me laugh as she pulled further ahead of the fourth girl, and passed the girl coming second...Ashlie touched the wall a few seconds behind a squad-trained swimmer to come 2nd in her heat.
Utter amazement. I was proud enough that she'd entered the race, proud enough that she knew her swimming wasn't as good as some of the other girls. But now I felt her happiness as she was told she had come second. All we had to do was wait for the 2nd heat. If Ashlie's time was faster than the first one or two in that race, she would have a place at the next carnival.
Alas, we had to wait a whole agonising day for the results. I knew that in the second heat there was another strong swimmer, a girl from Ashlie's class, but I knew nothing about the other girls. The chances were not good for Ashlie.
But Mumma (as she calls me when overcome by nerves) was still proud, no matter what.
That afternoon, I took the girls back to the pool for swimming lessons. Ashlie was determined to go, so I reluctantly queried about squad training. The coach had Ashlie swim a lap before deciding that yes, she was good enough to join the group. Afterwards, I asked how she went. He said she was good, albeit a little tired. Then he asked if she'd ever been coached before. When I said no, he seemed genuinely surprised and suggested that she must just be a natural swimmer. This clinched the deal for me, swimming is our sport!
Everyone was so proud of her when she told them (and the messages I received on Facebook were wonderful, as I had updated my status throughout the day to reflect her progress). I've never seen her face so alight with self-confidence!
When I arrived at school to pick the girls up today, Ashlie handed me a note and said simply 'I got in'.
I almost cried, after the initial flash of disbelief. I turned to the page with the names on it and see the two girls who are squad trained, and underneath, my daughter's name, in the column for 50m backstroke.
My darling Ashlie, who has had sporadic swimming lessons and learnt a basic freestyle stroke from her grandmother, is now representing her school.
I had to throw this picture in. Two of Ashlie's friends picked up their champ and carried her around. They were all proud of her too.