When you've done as many sports as I have at as many levels as I have there are few true "firsts" left in sport. This weekend I crossed a big one - "first swim meet as a swimmer"- off the list.
As book-ends go it was a good one. On Saturday, the Ironman World Championship was held in Kona, Hawai'i. Five years ago I was there, racing one of the longest mainstream sporting events currently held, and on this Saturday I was racing the 50 free, the shortest event in the Olympic swimming line-up.
The comparisons don't end there. I was warned multiple times about what to expect for the meet warm-up. Basically every competitor has access to the pool for the same 30-45 minutes to complete their team and/or personal warm-up. It is "dangerous" and "chaos" and I was going to get "swam over" and "flip-turned on" etc etc. We dove in and after about 200 yards I had to laugh. There were approximately 1975 fewer swimmers trying to maul me during meet warm-up than during an IM mass start. It was so tame.
Despite being half my age, my teammates held my hand through it all. They answer my very basic questions without laughing (too much) and often look at each other and say "oh yeah, I guess that is something we do at meets." To them all of this is second nature, just like I could set up a triathlon transition area blind-folded, and we all take that for granted in our own sport(s).
I think that I am enjoying swimming at this advanced commitment level because so much of it is brand new to me. I might as well be one of the adorable 8-year-olds whose arms and legs and back are covered in permanent marker. They start with event number/heat/lane on their forearm and get very carried away....
Early in the meet I was timed by a pair of women who carefully mentioned my age, which immediately follows my name on each heat check-in sheet. I confirmed that I was in fact the oldest competitor by 14 years and they were floored. I heard from several teammates that these two ladies had asked them "do you know there is a 32-year-old swimming this meet?" not even realizing we were on the same team. They were just announcing it to random people.
Little do they know that if it was a triathlon I would have been required to write my age on my calf. Next meet I might do that and write "eat my bubbles" right below it - just like all the other newbies.
One of the lessons I learned this weekend is that the hardest part of any event is the climb out of the pool after its over. Almost didn't make it out after the 100 back.
I could easily have titled this post "Swim Meets: As If I Needed Another Reason To Love Rice Pudding And Chinese Leftovers".