"New friends may be poems but old friends are alphabets. Don't forget the alphabets because you will need them to read the poems." -William Shakespeare
As I followed Aden at a dead run through Chicago O'Hare's B Terminal, I thought of abandoning our effort to get to US Masters Nationals in Greensboro. Dodging other masked travelers in a high-stakes reality version of the game Frogger, we managed to arrive at our gate, gasping, in time for the connecting flight. "There are more people coming," said Aden to the gate agent. She had bonded with Speedo-backpack-wearing athletes on our first flight, even as she flew past them in the terminal. Everyone finally made it, slumping into their airline seats and panting, just in time to be delayed another 90 minutes.
But I'm so glad we rallied, grateful to have made the aggravating trip to the East Coast, though the airport sprint and time change threw off my races on the first day. Aden suffered no lingering aftereffects from our travel and crushed her first day and second-day races, going lifetime best times in five for five. Watching her swim, seeing her look of delighted surprise each time she finished and turned to read the giant scoreboard, lit me up from my heartspace and erased the aches and pains of my fifty-year-old body.
Also valuable beyond compare, seeing my old friend Amelia after a thirty-year gap. Though connected by Christmas cards and occasional Facebook messages, we hadn't seen each other since college. Amelia and I swam together from age 13 - 16 after we both started (late to the sport) and we moved up from the little kids' lanes to seniors together, sharing relays, travel trips, and sweet 16 parties. Her family hosted me and my aunt for Thanksgiving of my freshman year in college when I couldn't go home due to time, money and (of course) the demands of swim team. I remember our group gathered around her brother as he played "American Pie, part 1" by Don McLean on the guitar as we gamely sang the lyrics.
Aden and I also met new friends; she exchanged Snapchat handles while I traded phone numbers for texting. Masters swimmers are focused and can be intense when it comes to swimming but are relaxed, friendly and funny on the sidelines. The group from Wisconsin were memorable with their individualized jerseys and their loud cheering, and the announcer kept us in hysterics with his false news reel beeps and static. Many swimmers were delighted when they learned I was swimming with my daughter, and often added wistfully, "I hope to get my son / daughter here to swim with me next time." Moments of connection and community that came so rarely during the worst days of Covid were everywhere in Greensboro, and I can't imagine a better way to spend a meet weekend.