Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gratuitous Swimming Story

So my high school swim team was pretty much the worst athletics team any of you have ever seen.   One year we had 7 dudes, which was a small enough number for the way we scored the meet, iirc, that if the other team had 10 kids who never got disqualified (simply finished all 40 of their legal swims) we mathematically could not win.  The other three years we had...more.  I came up through the YMCA swimming scene, so when I got there at 14 years old I already knew what was going on.  My marginal level of talent (1:03 in the 100 breast, 2:06 in the 200 im, both short course yards and still very very far from earning even a D2 scholarship) basically made me the best swimmer on the team by a large margin, and in the years that we could actually win meets it created an odd dynamic.  At least one of the following probabilities was always zero:

p(jesse loses a race)
p(our team wins)

And it was really that simply.  If there was any chance whatsoever of me losing either of my individual swims, there was zero chance we could win the meet.  So I was in this odd situation where if the meet was close, my performance didn't matter at all, whereas I'd occasionally have someone to race against when we were gonna lose 150-35.  What also would happen is that if we did have a chance to win the meet, it meant the other team was so bad that I would often swim silly events instead of my best (the breast stroke) to give us a better shot, as we tended to have someone else who could finish that event competitively, where as the 500 free, 200 free, and 100 fly we routinely struggled to have people finish legally.

So any way one of these weird meets happened where we actually were in contention, and it became clear midway through that the other team just didn't have a breast-stroker and we needed to switch me over to the 500 freestyle and see if our "b" guy could handle the other event.  We had gleaned this information from "scouting" (which was me talking to my YMCA friend on the other team, and him saying "yeah our breast-stroker goes like 1:20 lol have fun with that") and watching the 200 free (where they had a kid who went like 2:15...for reference I could swim that event in like 2:00, but he won handily over my teammates).  Remember also that I'm 15 years old;  nothing goes smoothly when you're 15 years old.  The decision is made that we're pulling the switcheroo, but I don't really remember how.  It had to be brought up by me, since there is just no chance any other human, my coach included, would have ever even thought of it, which makes this next part seem very strange indeed.  I just remember deciding that I was going to screw with this kid, mercilessly.  Curiously what I did could actually have been viewed as very helpful to him, as he likely swam the best time of his life, but I assure you I was just being a vindictive 15 year old jerk.  My best time in the 500 free was, I think, 5:19, and I should have beaten this guy by close to a minute.  Instead, I kept him on my hip for literally the first 450 yards, then swam the final 50 at a dead sprint to win by over 10 yards, finishing in a time north of 6 minutes.

So that was kind of fun.  My coach wasn't too happy about my stunt, but whatever, I was 15 and I enjoyed myself.  Then came the 100 breast stroke and sure enough our B guy was able to win the event all by himself.  The high school scoring system was so odd (6 4 3 2 1 0) that it barely made any difference at all, but we had successfully snaked a few extra points and were now in a position where if we won the 400 free relay (scored differently and worth many points, i don't remember) we'd actually win the meet.  There was one other guy on my team who was also good, and he specialized in back stroke (58), fly (59), and short distance freestyle(54/24).  His best time was actually slightly better than mine in the 100 free, but as I said earlier he routinely lead off and let me anchor to give me 3 more minutes of rest.  There was a fly in the ointment this year, however, in that one of the two other kids we had was completely incapable of doing a relay start.  It was as if he just chose when to start his dive completely randomly, and there was a 25% chance he'd false start, and another 50% chance he'd be over 1 second slow.  He could do a regular start, though, so we always had to put him first.  Like I said...we weren't...good.

That's how it came to pass that I was swimming in the three hole that day, usually reserved for the slowest swimmer on the squad.  The first two guys swam, and as predicted our dude lost by a little bit.  The second two guys dove in, and once again our swimmer was losing ground.  By the time they were coming back down the pool we were stuck something like 7-8 yards, and for the only time I can remember in 60 or so high school meets in 4 years it was important that I swim fast because doing so could actually change the result of the meet.  And I simply destroyed that poor child.  I split the best time of my life, I think a 54.low, and he probably didn't break 1:10.  I caught him early in the second 25 and by the time Matt, our anchor, dove in, the race was completely over.  He probably beat their anchor by 5 or 10 seconds himself, but what everyone remembered was Jesse jerking around in the 500 free, then singlehandedly winning the relay and the meet.  It was pretty fun.

I'm actually probably going to tell another story soon...I enjoyed typing that out.