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Articles by Dartes Swimmers Past and Present

Every now and again, someone pops up out of the deep end and writes an article for the website. Sometimes these are former Dartes swimmers with happy memories to share. Often they're current members with something special or interesting to shout about. Either way, if it's interesting and in some way connected to Dartes or Doncaster Swimming, we'll probably publish it.

Here's an article from a source unrelated to Doncaster Swimming, but we thought you'd like it anyway.

My First Meet -- Barbara Appleton

Nothing can top the feeling of swimming in your first meet when you finally have the opportunity to experience the true emotions of swimming -- from agony to glory, from exhaustion to exhilaration.

By Barbara Appleton (Reproduced here by kind permission of Swim Info and Swim Mag).


"You're gonna do it, aren't you?" It's early June, and the voice on the phone has asked that question several times the past few weeks.

I am hesitant as I stare blankly at the application in front of me. Swim in an actual meet? Me? Joe was pushing the Garden State Games in July. Our kids were swimming with their USA Swimming team, and it just so happened this particular meet offered a Masters competition in the evening.

But I wasn't a "swimmer" swimmer! I mean, I swim laps on a regular basis and I teach water aerobics and, basically, I am in top shape. But never in my 44 years had I competed in swimming!

Joe speaks again. "Come on. Just do it for fun." Easy for him to say. He had been a swimmer in high school.

I promise him I will think about it. I hang up the phone and read the events again on my entry form. Forget butterfly and backstroke. Breaststroke maybe. But I should stick to what I know best--actually, I should stick to the only thing I know: freestyle!

I take a deep breath, circle "100 meter freestyle," and quickly write the check, seal and address the envelope and mail it before I change my mind. Then I look at the calendar. I have six weeks.

For the past 10 years, swimming has been the focus of our family's life. We have three daughters who are all swimmers. For several years we spent afternoons and evenings shuffling all three back and forth to practice. We cooked and reheated dinners, washed and dried an extraordinary amount of towels each day, lived with chlorine-green hair and revolved on that swimming family merry-go-round.

I've spent my fair share of time at day-long swim meets with that glaze over my eyes. I've screamed and jumped up and down when they swam fast. I've comforted an endless number of tears. I've given up weddings and reunions and countless hours of "me" time and traded it in for several 30- to 60-second segments in a four-hour window.

Yet, through it all, I had never experienced the true feelings of swimming: the emotions from agony to glory, from exhaustion to exhilaration.

I guess it wouldn't hurt to be on the other side of the blocks for once!

Mid-June

I start to tell people that I will swim at the Garden State Games. I think it's basically so I won't chicken out. Everyone is very encouraging. "You'll do fine," they say. How often have I said those empty words to my swimmers before a meet.

I turn my thoughts to the race at hand. I haven't the slightest idea how to "train," so basically I increase my exercise routine.

I consider myself in very good shape. I work out about 10 to 12 hours a week, including my aqua aerobics classes, indoor bicycle, treadmill and stairmaster, upper body strength training and swimming. I keep this in mind as I take to the water for my mile swim three times a week.

In the water, I feel like I'm working my muscles. My heart rate is in workout range. I feel my arms and legs while I'm swimming and especially afterward. When I swim, I picture myself in the Olympics, racing for the gold. This makes me feel like I am gliding through the water at warp speed. It's a fun game to play while performing the mindless laps over and over.

End of June

I decide I'd better time myself for the 100 meter freestyle, so I arrive early at our town pool on Saturday morning and wait until it opens. I have a stopwatch which I place at the pool's edge. I swim eight lengths of warm-up, then get ready for my big test. I know I can't get a really accurate time--but it's an estimate.

I hit the start button, turn around and push off the wall. Stroke, pull, glide...I feel strong in the water. Try not to breathe every stroke. Forget breathing on the left side. It's too late to learn anything new. I kick harder than I usually do when I swim. I feel my heart rate increase. I have plenty of wind at the 50-meter mark, and I hit my turn with precision. I have been practicing flip turns for over a year. I think I'm pretty good at them.

On the return trip I'm feeling tired. I get scared that I will not be able to breathe. I unconsciously slow my stroke, but I continue to pull and reach and I still feel good. I realize later that this "feeling good" is my downfall. I hit the wall and grab the watch to stop it. Two minutes, five seconds!

Wait a minute...now I can subtract time for the way I started and stopped the watch...I didn't go off a starting block...I didn't warm up enough? I climb out of the water and ask the lifeguard on duty, "This pool is longer than 50 meters, right?"

First week in July

My daughter's Barracuda coach, Ed, has agreed to teach me how to start a race. So twice this week I join practice for the last half hour, take my place with the other swimmers and practice springing and streamlining and kicking out of the start.

My stomach hurts from hitting the water, and my goggles fill with water each time my head goes under. The kids get a good laugh at Samantha's old mom struggling to reach down and grab the block for a good start.

"Hold on and lean back, Mom," Sam says helpfully. "But don't move, or you'll get DQ'ed." They would do that to me?

July 7

Less than a week till the meet. I return to the meter pool in town and place my watch on the deck again. Each time I finish a 100, I check the time. I can get close to two minutes, but I wonder if I've read the watch correctly.

And now all my "sprints" have resulted in a sore shoulder--a tingling that runs from the top of my arm down to my wrist. And when I turn my arm over to swim, I can feel the "clicking" of my joints. Great. I ice it a couple of times each day and take ibuprofen. That seems to relieve it.

I'm four days away now...I decide to "taper."

Taper is one of those swimming terms you come to understand slowly--yet still not completely. I think it means reducing the training as the big meet approaches so as to rest your muscles and drive parents crazy. Let's look at it: you take a big group of swimmers who train hours and hours a day, then you take away that release of endorphins over a period of seven days and you end up with kids ready to climb the walls!

My taper is not that drastic. And my energy doesn't necessarily increase. The tingling in my arm makes me want to climb the walls, and I'm getting increasingly nervous.

"How you doin'?" I am asked by other swim team parents (word travels quickly in a close-knit group). "I'm ready!" Yeah.

July 8

My start looks good! The coach actually said that! I swallow a silly grin. I don't know if he is just saying that...what could it hurt?...he knows it means little in the big scheme of things...but I don't care.

I still get water in my goggles every time I dive, but my start looks good! My arm still hurts like heck, but my start looks good! I walk a little taller out of practice with the kids.

"Are you scared, Mrs. Appleton?" one little girl asks. "Scared? Scared? No, of course not," I answer with confidence. "This is all just for fun."

July 9 (Morning)

I have a dream about swimming and not finishing. I wake up with a pit in my stomach, repeating the mantra I had recited to the little one a day earlier, "This is all just for fun. This is all just for fun."

How can Sam close her eyes and fall asleep and not dream of her suit falling off or crashing into the side or drinking half the pool? I'm thinking of things such as, "I wish it were 20 hours from now, and I would be asleep after having done my race."

I'm 44 years old and letting something like a little swim event take over my mind and body. I make another mental note to treat my swimmer with a little more respect the day before the big meet. Then I get up and clean the house because I know I'm good at that.

July 9 (Afternoon)

How many times have I made this trip? How many miles have I clocked on the odometer toward swim meets the past six years? This time, as we drive the hour to the Rutgers University pool, I try to swallow the growing lump in my stomach. Is this what they feel on the way to a meet?

I glance in the rear view mirror toward my daughter. She's plugged into her Walkman and carrying on a conversation with a friend--at the same time! Neither of the girls look worried.

When we arrive, they run ahead to check in for their events. I take my time parking the car and gathering my "stuff." Usually my "stuff" for a meet includes the newspaper or a magazine; a small cooler with juice, soda and bagels; and my camera case. Today I have an added burden...my own swim bag.

I sling it over my shoulder--"swimmer style"--and trudge toward the door. I feel different, a bit important, a bit excited, a lot scared. I contemplate using the swimmers' door to get in free, but decide that would be dishonest. Besides, I'm not quite ready to be labeled a swimmer yet. After all, I still have hours!

July 9 (6 p.m.)

The kids' meet is finished. They have done well. They are all dressing and going to dinner with a normal mom--a mom who has decided that at our tender ages, she is going to attack a cheeseburger, not a 50-meter pool.

Then I feel hands on my shoulders, an encouraging touch from one of my swim partners, Joe. He's the one who talked me into this in the first place. Shall I kill him now or after he finishes the backstroke?

The locker room is almost empty and refreshingly cool. An occasional college girl passes through. Other than that, I am alone. I open my bag and tear the tags off my brand new Speedo, black with hot color stripes on the midriff area. I ease it on over my hips. It has that new "girdle" fit of a brand-new suit.

I suck in my stomach and look at myself in the mirror. What I see is a short, 44-year-old woman with a muscular frame and mush for a brain. I cover the mush with a cap (another new purchase). It is harder to get on than I thought it would be. I realize that because of my short hair, I have never worn a cap in my life! I conclude it's not very comfortable, and I can't hear very well. I position my glasses over the cap, grab my goggles and head out to the pool.

As I pass by the computer table, a man stops me. "You check in right here." His voice is calm and businesslike. My hand shakes as I find my name on the list.

"Appleton, Barbara, 100 meter freestyle."

I take the pen from his hand and place a small check mark by my name. I feel like I have just signed the Declaration of Independence.

"Thanks." My voice isn't nearly as shaky as I feel. I smile and walk out onto the deck where the other swimmers have started to arrive.

July 9 (6:45 p.m.)

I am doing laps in different lanes. I want to feel them all--to conquer every part of the pool. I successfully go off five blocks and encounter water in my goggles only once. My body feels slick in the cool water. I travel at a steady pace and I feel good. I'm not winded by working.

I watch the black line on the bottom of the pool. I gauge my flip turn. I flip and aim for the right side of the lane. I am circle-swimming, just as I have watched my girls do for years. I reach and pull and glide and even kick, and I feel strong.

I stifle back a smile as I swim. Then I glance over to my right to the swimmer in the next lane. She passes me, and she is doing backstroke!...I'm in trouble!

July 9 (7:15 p.m.)

The meet was to have begun, but I have been politely told that it always runs late. The deck is now full of swimmers of a variety of ages. Age does not matter. I feel alone. Joe is there, and Jerry, too. They have warmed up and are ready to cheer me on. The kids are back from dinner, and they are acting as timers for the evening.

It is a complete and perfect role reversal. Samantha stands behind a lane with a clipboard in her hand and a stopwatch around her neck. I stand behind the lane in which I'll be swimming, and I stretch against the block. (This is only because I have seen it done so many times before--when I watched from the safety of the seats and without the pit in my stomach!)

"Come on, Mom, you can do it!" Sam calls to me as they blow the whistle. I look at my youngest, all smiles and love. She gives me a thumbs up.

My legs feel like rubber as I carefully climb onto the block. All the little details now seem like monumental steps: exactly how far to the front are my feet supposed to be? How far forward do I lean to start? I need to make sure that I remain perfectly still.

My heart is pounding...it seems like forever until I hear the electronic beep. I sense movement on the blocks around me. Taking a momentary pause just to make sure, I hurl myself into the waiting water. Remarkably, my goggles remain on my face, and there is no water sloshing around inside of them.

The water feels cool and my head feels dizzy. I feel uncharacteristically strong and ready. With absolutely no regard to a pace, I sprint toward the 50-meter mark, unaware of those screaming from the deck. I make it about 25 meters feeling great, and then it hits me like a brick. My arms feel heavy, almost too heavy to lift out of the water; my lungs heave for air. I feel my pace slowing down. I breathe every stroke.

But the 50 meter wall is almost there. I ready myself for the flip turn that I have practiced so often, but right before I begin my turn, I realize I need air--so I gulp, miss my mark and twist as I turn. With little air--and toes just about touching the wall--I get almost no pushoff whatsoever. My body comes up almost vertically, and I glance at the finish. It's not 50 meters away, but miles!

For the first time ever since I began getting ready for this race, I am afraid I might not finish. The thought frightens me. This wasn't in the plan at all. I begin to stroke heavily toward the end. Now I hear Joe and his encouraging chant, "One more, Barb!" I can't relate how many times he must have said that the next 60 seconds, but my lungs cry out for oxygen, and my arms are heavier than I ever could imagine.

I frantically watch the pool bottom for the "T" in the black lane marker. It never seems to come. Finally, I see it--and with five more slow strokes, I hit the wall. At that instant, I hear the starter say, "Heat two, step up." And I realize they have all been waiting for me. I try to climb out as easily as I did during warm-up, but I fall back into the pool and sheepishly duck under the lane lines to the ladder three lanes over.

My daughter and friends greet me with 11-year-old smiles. Sam says, "Good job, Mom." How many times have I said that to her no matter how she swam? It is a dead compliment and I am too tired to respond. An elderly lady grins as she pulls on her cap readying for her race, "Isn't this fun?" she teases. I manage a smile. Joe gives me an encouraging hug. I suddenly remember my race and ask about my time. Sam looks at the heat sheet: 1:47 and change.

My heart soars. I beat two minutes! My best time. No medals, no first, second, even third place--just an inner pride that swells as I peel off my cap and walk toward the locker room.

I try not to smile as I walk. After all, this is serious business! Another swimmer passes me and nods. "See you next year?" she asks. I smile and give a thumbs up. My answer would have to come later. But nothing can top this feeling. For one brief moment in time, I am a swimmer...and it feels great!