John’s hand flapped around on top of the small side table until it made contact with the bedside lamp switch. He raised his head slightly off the pillow, opened one eye and looked at the clock 03.55. Glad he’d woken before the alarm went off, no need to disturb anyone this morning.
Shoving his legs into his track suit bottoms he shivered slightly in the cold air but felt much warmer as he zipped up his fleece and pulled it around his neck. The torch app on his mobile phone afforded him some light as he crept downstairs, his kitbag slung over one shoulder.
In the kitchen John made himself a cup of strong coffee while he ate a chocolate coated protein bar and studied the day’s schedule. The sensation of butterflies in his stomach surprised him as he didn’t think he was that nervous. Today was an important day and he thought he had everything under control. Obviously, he hadn’t.
Wrapping his arms around himself as a shiver went down his back, he wished it was 6 a.m. when the central heating automatically came alive.
Making a final check of all his kit he mentally counted out four swimming hats, four pairs of goggles, four swimming trunks—just in case.
He tapped his back pocket to make sure his wallet was there. Picked up his car keys and then remembered something. Taking a scrap of paper his mother usually left for shopping lists and a pencil he wrote:
See you all later, enjoy your day, love you lots, xxx
Tightly holding his car keys and shouldering his heavy sports bag he crept out into the dark early morning. John grunted as he heaved his bag onto the back seat of the car and started up the engine allowing it to tick over while he wiped all the windows of mist. Then he settled into the driver’s seat, did up his seat belt, switched on the radio and set off on his one-hundred-mile journey to the fifty-metre pool where this year’s swimming championships were being held.
After only one comfort break on the journey, he arrived just over an hour before warm-up began. He parked his car, bought a parking voucher which he displayed on the dashboard and proceeded to walk to the pool. Feeling good but not feeling very talkative he lifted his hand to anyone he recognised, and they did a similar wave back. Everyone concentrating on the job ahead of them.
The smell of chlorine set off some more tummy jitters and adrenalin began to race through his veins. John entered the changing rooms, stripped off and put on his swim gear and tracksuit and then began some stretching exercises. After he’d completed these, he drank some water from his water bottle ate a banana and an energy bar and then it was time to head for the warm-up pool.
After thirty minutes of doing lengths to help his muscles relax John heard a loud buzzer. It was time to get out of the pool and let the other age groups in. John dried himself off and did a few more stretches.
Time for his race.
He was ranked the fastest in the heats and so he confidently strode toward the starting block at lane four. He took off his track suit, folded it neatly and lay it in the basket provided along with his trainers. Then he adjusted his hat, goggles and swim trunks and waited.
A cacophony of sound ran around the seating area of the pool like an aural Mexican wave. A mixture of chatter, cheering, laughter and air horns.
The command for the swimmers to mount the blocks was given. A woman dressed all in white standing next to lane one held up a starting pistol. On the starter’s orders he mounted the block in front of him and steadied himself in his starting pose. This was not the time for any nerves to show he had to remain stock still.
The crack of the starter’s gun set his whole body into automatic mode. He been here many times before. Four lengths of the fifty-metre pool, good turns and touching the stop pad without gliding in. In less than one minute forty five seconds, the race was over.
He’d come first in the concluding heat of the morning’s session without expending too much energy. He was the fastest swimmer for the finals that evening and once again would set off in lane four.
John felt very pleased with himself. He spent a further thirty minutes in the swim-down pool, then dried himself off. Grabbed some food and his water bottle and book and then took himself off to a quiet place where he could spend some time recuperating and reading and getting himself mentally and physically ready for the finals that evening.
Time passed by quickly and the evening warm-up session was announced. John joined the throngs of excited swimmers in the smaller of the two pools.
Then it was time for his race.
He stood on the starting blocks of lane four once more and on hearing the starting gun he dived in, not too deep and not too shallow. Four lengths of the fifty-metre pool again, his turns were faster than the heats, strong push offs at each end and one of the best finishes he’d done in months.
Gasping for breath John looked up at the score board. Silver medal place. He’d lost by one hundredth of a second. He shook hands with the winner and the bronze medallist shook hands with him. Then they all made their way to the winner’s podium to receive their medals.
John had dried himself and got changed and was heading to the pool’s exit when a woman tapped him on the shoulder.
The woman pushed a boy aged about nine toward John.
“My son wants to know if you wouldn’t mind autographing his book for him. He’s been an admirer of yours for a number of years now.”
The boy stood silently holding out a rather tatty autograph book. John took it along with the pen the boy was holding.
“What’s your name?”
John signed the book—with all good wishes Tommy, John Sinclair, freestyler.
Tommy nervously took the book and smiled up at the six foot three inches tall swimmer. The woman then prodded the youngster.
“Tommy wants to ask you some questions. Is that all right?”
John put his bags on the floor, crouched down and focussed on Tommy.
“When are you going to retire?”
The woman began laughing. “Oh, sorry about that. His dad retired from the factory last week and he’s been fixated on the word retirement ever since.”
“That’s all right. I don’t mind. Tommy I’m not ready to retire. I think I’ve got a few more years ahead of me yet.”
“But you’ve got the silver medal four times now. Don’t you ever feel like giving up?”
“No. I think I did a good swim today but there’s always room for improvement. I’ll practice my dives, turns and finishes and see if I can’t knock some time of my personal best and win the gold medal next time. Do you enjoy swimming Tommy?”
“Yes, I love it and one day I’m going to win gold medals. I haven’t dived in yet though as I’m a bit scared to even try it.”
With that Tommy smiled, took his mother’s hand and with a little wave they both walked toward the exit door of the pool.
John picked up his swim bag, hoisted it onto his back and then called out—
Tommy and his mother turned around to look.
“Keep at it, work hard, you’ll never know unless you try.”