The rippling, aquamarine water laid ahead of me waiting for someone to dive in and make a splash. My Arena Lzr Elite was bandaged around my body, my Speedo goggles squeezed my head, and my EAGLES cap kept my hair tight. I performed my pre-race routine, ending with 2 jumps to get pumped. I looked down at the end of my lane to see everyone pouring into the pool deck and gathering around the end of my lane. For most swimmers, this was just another meet, but for me, this one was different. I had to succeed to prove to my coach and myself that everything I had done up had paid off. I looked up to see Coach standing in the bleachers as he looked down and yelled, “let’s go lil’ Fukada! 2:38.6, that’s all you need!”. Seeing his excitement reminded me that I owed this race to him. I looked back down at the end of my lane with a stomach full of butterflies. The starter approached the horn and there was one long *BEEP*.
I rose to the block, stretching my shoulders and back one last time. “Swimmers, take your mark”, the starter announced in his heavy tone. I grasped the rough block, and pulled back through my lats and triceps. *BEEP!*, the starter blasted the horn as I pulled my arms into a tight streamline, kicking off as hard as I could. There was nothing I could change at this point. I had done all the work and now it was time for my 200 meter butterfly; it was me against the clock. The second I hit the water, everything around me froze. The cheers from the crowds became distant muffled sounds. The deck crowded with over-excited moms became nothing but the grey-tiled ground. All but two things had disappeared; the sight of my competitors ahead of me, and Coaches signature, “GO! Catch ‘er!”. As I came to the turn of my first 25m, I saw the girl 2 lanes down push off slightly ahead of me. I knew my strength was my fast last 75m, and I knew I couldn’t let myself go out too fast. As I approached the turn at the 50m mark, my body began to fatigue. With 150 meters to go, I relaxed my stroke and pace for the next 50m. At the next turn, I was neck-in-neck with the girl 2 lanes down from me, as I felt myself begin to die. My shoulders were numb but also screaming in pain, my lungs felt as if they were being filled with toxic gasses, and my legs felt like they were being torn off by a shark. In most other races, I would have given up and let the clock beat me, but not this time. This time was different. At my next turn, Coach yelled, “Come On! GO!”. Hearing the anxiety in his voice only pushed me more. I had a decision to make, and I had about half a second to make it. I was either going to give up and fail my goal once again, or I could put all the pain aside and push myself to my very limit.
I knew the only choice I had was to push through for Coach. Thinking back to the first time I walked onto the pool deck to be greeted by an enthusiastic Coach, and knowing that there was no other sport I wanted to play. Thinking back to the many times that I got out after a race with tears of disappointment and seeing it in his face as well. I remembered the killer 2,500m butterfly sets that made me cry, the ridiculously early morning practices before school, and the 200 squat challenge that impaired me of walking for days, but it was all because he cared. He who had woken up extremely early on Saturdays to drive to practice, he who had spent hours writing our practices for the next week, he who spent countless weekends at swim meets with us, he who had made me cry hundreds of times, but only because he cared about how I did, and most of all, he who had believed in me when I hadn’t believed in myself. He made me the swimmer I am today, and I was not going to let him down, and I was ready to prove that all of my hard work, all of HIS hard work, had paid off.
I breathed to see that my opponent was a mere fingernail ahead of me. I blasted through the last 75m; my arms windmill-like, my kick dolphin-like, and my determination like a bear hunting it’s prey. I began to edge ahead. First it was a fingernail, then it was half a body length then a full body length. At my last turn, I saw my family and all of my teammates at the end of my lane cheering for me as loud as possible, and I heard Coaches excited cheer as I neared the wall. 5 more strokes, now 4, 3, 2, and1. I flung my arms around jamming my fingers into the wall. Without even taking a second to breathe, I spun around to look at the scoreboard. I ripped off my cap and goggles waiting for my time. The scoreboard flickered, then in bright numbers read, 2:32.94! Everyone erupted in “Woo!”s and “Yeah Aime!”. I threw my hand over my mouth in disbelief, and as soon as everyone finished I jumped out of the pool.
I ran over to my teammates and parents as they all swarmed me with “congratulations!” and hugs. The tears continued as my parents told me how proud they were. “Little Aime Fukada!”, Coach exclaimed walking through, “Woo! 2:32.94”. I looked up at him teary eyed, not knowing what to say as he gave me a hug. Thinking of the times he yelled at me for not trying hard enough, the countless weight sessions, the hundreds of times he had made me laugh until I peed my pants, and the times that he looked me in the eye and told me he believed in me. Through blood, sweat, and tears, we had been through it all together. I was, am, and will be eternally grateful that Coach inspired me, pushed me and allowed me to live out my dreams. I looked up at him, choking on my tears, “Thank you! This was all you.”