Indomitable

Several weeks ago I posted here that the Hertfordshire County swimming championships were about to happen. Well, the event happened and is now over. It ran over the past three weekends, with hundreds of kids swimming in events that, for many of them, represented the pinnacle of achievement in their swimming careers.

My eldest daughter, Tigerlily, swam in thirteen individual events and four team relay events, she achieved medals in all but one event, the majority of them gold. My pride in her success does not reflect on me, it is her natural ability and hard work that made it happen, I just have huge gratitude that I’m blessed to know her. Even writing this I feel an upsurge of emotion at the memory of seeing her wring every last scrap of effort from her body in the pool.

Her last individual event was the gruelling 400 metre individual medley, in which the swimmer swims 100 metres each of the four strokes. Butterfly first, backstroke second, breaststroke then freestyle to finish. This torture was scheduled as first of the morning after the 200m butterfly, itself an event of breathtaking barbarity, had closed proceedings the night before.

During the 200m butterfly, Tigerlily had emptied herself out in the process of trimming 25 seconds from her previous best time for the distance, quite phenomenal really. The resulting time surpassed the regional championships qualifying time by 7 seconds. Regional championships is the next tier of competition after county champs, and is quite a big step up. Understandably, this left her somewhat depleted, but next morning she gamely lined up for the 400 IM.

When Tigerlily used to play football I would marvel at the way she, and all the other girls in her team and club, would turn out to train in the cold, snow, rain etc without a word of complaint. As a lifelong whinger, I was always expecting a rebellion or some kind of protest, but it never happened and this was no different. She soaked up the pain of the night before and stood up for more. No parent could be more proud.

When the race started she went out fast. Later, Tigerlily told me she had no idea how fast she was swimming because it felt so relaxed, but the time she set for the first hundred metres was faster than the time that had won her gold in the individual 100m butterfly event on the first day of the competition. Backstroke was next and she continued to leave the rest of the field far behind. Backstroke has recently started to overtake butterfly as her best, and strongest, stroke. She has always dominated the butterfly events. By the end of the backstroke leg of the race Tigerlily had a full pool length between herself and the next swimmer, she transitioned smoothly into breaststroke and took off looking strong.

Breaststroke has always been her weak point. She doesn’t like swimming it and endures it in training sessions until they move onto something she considers to be real swimming. I’m ashamed to say that I feel the same way, believing that breaststroke is irrelevant and silly as well as being boring to watch, sorry Mr Peaty. Recently, however, the knowledge that her weakness in this discipline has been costing her medals in IM events has made Tigerlily more motivated, and she has worked on her technique as well as on overcoming her antipathy towards breaststroke generally.

As a result, she looked ok as she started off, and over the first two lengths, although she lost ground to the better breaststroke swimmers, she still looked the likely winner.

I forgot to mention that, in my capacity as a level one swimming official ( lowliest in the hierarchy ) I was judging and timekeeping, coincidentally, in my daughter’s lane. From this vantage point I could see that, as she rose up to breathe in between strokes, there was something wrong. It looked like Tigerlily was struggling for air, although she was still moving along ok there was clearly a problem.

As she arrived at the end of the breaststroke leg she stopped swimming and looked completely spent. I could see that she was shaking and gasping for air, it looked as if she might not be able to stay above water. I went to her and crouched down, she said, in between breaths, that she couldn’t feel her legs that they had gone numb two lengths before. I supported her head above water until her breathing returned to normal and she could support her own body in an upright position. In the meantime the race had finished and the call came to clear the pool ready for the next race to start.

Tigerlily managed to get herself out of the pool, her team mates and her coach took over caring for her while I went back to my officiating duties. I’m happy to report that she recovered sufficiently to help her relay team to achieve three medals later in the day.

As a postscript to this I have to pass on something that was said to me later. As I prepared to leave the officials’ room at the end of my ( voluntary ) shift poolside, and went to watch the last two sessions of the competition from the spectators’ gallery, the chief referee asked to speak to me.

She said that what I had done, in assisting my daughter, went against the ethos of impartiality that we are meant to display as officials. She went on to comment that, as the event was streamed live on YouTube, it didn’t look good that an official was seen to be touching an underage child in the water. You can probably imagine my outrage, despite this, I was restrained in my reaction. I did state that if the same thing happened again I would behave in the same way, to which she said that I should probably question whether I could continue as an official.

To put this in context, every poolside official is a volunteer without whom no swimming event in this country could be staged. To be granted the honour of standing, unpaid, poolside, I have had to attend two classroom sessions as well as mentored sessions poolside for many hours. To be told that I am not permitted to offer assistance to my own child when she is in danger of drowning, when I am not only the best qualified, but also the one immediately present makes no sense to me. I wonder how many parents would feel happy to stand by in that situation until someone else happens to notice there’s a problem.

Anyway, seventeen events and sixteen medals, another good day at the office. Swim on Tigerlily, my beautiful little flower!

Struggling to stand up under the weight of those medals!

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