One night in March 2006, I left a swimming pool in Athens, Georgia, in tears. I was pretending not to be crying, but I was living the most disappointing end to a sports career that had spanned eleven years and to which I had given my soul. After a great senior year and a relatively successful NCAA championships, I had a horrible experience on my last ever night as an athlete. Without wanting to go into too much pseudo-pathetic, oddly annoying detail, I left swimming insulted and belittled and disappointed. Not with myself, but with the disrespectful and anti-climactic way it ended. After a short time, and a lot of booze, I was okay with that. Many people have dealt with worse shit in swimming–especially college swimming–than I did. However, last week, I was afforded the opportunity to change it. And I did.
I flew form London to Barcelona with no intention at all of swimming in one of the world’s better-known swimming series. I was going to have a holiday, travelling with my Dad’s swim team from Barcelona to Canet, France, and onto Monte Carlo. I took a practice suit, packed at the last minute, on the off-chance I’d lose enough sense to think that getting into a warm-up pool was a good idea. Somehow, by the end of the Barcelona meet, Aqua Crest had convinced me to enter the 50 freestyle in Canet. All I had was this loud swim suit, awful I’ll-replace-them-shortly goggles and a dying Washington State swim cap.
It doesn’t mean much. So someone who should have known better gave me a hard time one night in 2006 and I was hurt. Was there a reason to reverse a terrible couple of hours from three years ago? But that wasn’t the only reason I had my father enter me in the Canet race. I’d spent years making sensible decisions. Entering an international swimming race after not stepping into a pool in three months and not completeing a race in three years was a ridiculous thing to do. It simply had to be done. I’d brought none of my seven FastSkin racing suits with me. We bought an Arena PowerSkin in Canet. I raced in the 50 freestyle in Canet and then again in Monaco.
It was the most fun I’ve had in years. Many, many years. I’ve likely never had such a good time on a swimming trip and I eradicated all and any of the bad feelings I had about the way my swimming career ended. I was a 200 breaststoker, so entering the 50 free wasn’t exactly challenging myself with my best event. However, I swam only about 1.5 seconds slower than my best times in the 50 free, which is a lot in a sprint… but if you’d told me I could swim a 29.1 LCM 50 two weeks ago, I’d have laughed at you over a full glass of Shiraz.
Some other damn awesome times had over the past ten days:
- Hanging out with my dad. As he proclaimed on our last night in Barcelona, he is ‘cool’.
- Driving (or, being driven in) a pretty little Benz SLK 200. Hertz didn’t have enough Peugeots for us, you see, so we were stuck with it. What a shame.
- Finally getting to go to the after-party in Canet. I made up for lost time by having one of the most random, yet one of the best, nights ever.
- Drinking a margarita (which we’d initally planned on having in a dodgy Seattle Mexican restaurant) at the Monte Carlo casino after the second 50 free. That was €22 well spent.
- The opening lines of “Human” on repeat over. And over. Again. In Barcelona. Please. Choose. A. Different. Song.
- Absinthe (no, we didn’t), Jack Daniels, red wine and chocolate milk.
- Buying real Ray-Ban Aviators in Monte Carlo. Because you can’t drive around in a hot convertible wearing £20 sunglasses.
- The Hyper Casino. Which was neither hyper, nor a casino. It did, however, stock French toy soldiers, complete with American flags. Hmmm.
- The house and the rooms in Canet, including chocolate-fuelled movie nights. God bless you, iTunes movie store. It was like being back in college, or at least on a training trip. Thanks to Andrew for the picture. I neglected to take any.
The biggest thanks obviously go to Missy, Skuba, Andrew and Jamie for being the best teammates ever. And in the end, it was more than a trip to Europe in the summer. It sort of made up for a lot, afforded me some much-needed perspective and erased the bitterness I had about the way a very important part of my life ended. The ten days I spent there were ten of the best I’ve ever had. Maybe next year, but more likely next week , I’ll take up swimming one more time.
Full photo documentation here.