Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The End of an Era

At some point during William's state championship swim meet I noticed the ring finger on my right hand had swelled and bruised purple from clapping against my platinum band. I couldn't clap or cheer by the last relay - my voice gave out in the first half of the meet - so I clutched at my torn blue fan, tears welling as I mutely watched my son swim his last high school race. They took third, beating their seed time by over five seconds and jumping up three places. Their first relay had kicked things off with a bang, winning and setting a new state record by over two seconds. 

The crowd was electric, packed sweaty knee to sweaty knee, screaming itself hoarse for the respective high schools. Barred from a 2020 season by COVID, forbidden even to attend dual meets in the 2021 season D events, parents, families and friends were finally set free to cheer on our boys. The nerves and intensity rose to a fever pitch as the swimming heavyweights duked it out in the pool.

More state records fell: the 50 free (to an Olympic Trials competitor), the 200 free relay (William's teammates), the 400 free relay (neighboring high school with yet another Olympic Trials swimmer on board). William came away with four podium swims (podium in this case being top ten places): first in the medley relay, where he swam the butterfly leg; seventh in the 100 fly, in which he broke 50 seconds for the first time; fifth in the 100 backstroke, and third in the 400 free relay. Both of his relays are automatic high school All-American times.

William overcame overtraining syndrome, autoimmune issues, a late start to the sport (he was 14) and a pandemic to crush his best times and help lead his team to a second (non-consecutive) state championship title. When the parents could only speak in whispers or whistle, at the end of the night, the boys and their coaches all jumped in the pool, holding the trophy aloft and lifting fists and voices to the high rooftop. 

Watching Aden and William in their high school swim meets both lifted and filled me. Loving the athletes and the sport, feeling the partisan passion for their school, teammates and friends, I'll never be able to recapture the particular pleasure-pain of those swim seasons. Two or three days after State I crashed back to earth - no more videos to watch and post to friends and family, no more news articles to scan. The slight relief I felt at William being done, free of responsibility and care, fell flat under the sorrow of my loss. 

Aden and William might move forward to swim club together at CU, and I can cheer Daniel on in cross-country and track, but I will miss the high school pools, the uncomfortable bleachers where I perched with friends and neighbors, straining to catch every stroke, eyes flashing to the scoreboard for results, raising my fist in triumph when the kids looked to me with a smile. I'll miss timing behind the blocks and running the scoreboard in the "crow's nest," the team cheers, and the thunderous roaring of the crowd when the home team wins. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Simone Manuel Defeats OTS

Simone Manuel was the face of U.S. women's swimming at the Rio Olympics. A gold-medal winner in the 100 meter freestyle and a silver-medal winner in the 50 meter freestyle, she added on another gold and silver in the 400m relays. In late March of 2021 she fell ill while training for a big meet in Texas, a lead-up to the Olympic Trials. After that meet she went to stay with her family for the first time in over a year, and a doctor diagnosed her medical issues as overtraining syndrome (OTS).

In an emotional press conference that Manuel gave after she failed to make the finals of the 100 free at the 2021 Olympic Trials, the standout swimmer graciously sat and answered numerous questions, some of a personal nature, about her symptoms and the stress she carried as a black athlete during the racial reckoning of 2020. The list she provided of her body's warning signals: high heartbeat, extreme fatigue, inability to resume her normal schedule after weeks of modified activity, anxiety, depression and insomnia, are all familiar to me. I had the same issues in 2011 and 2012 when I over trained for a marathon / triathlon combo. William, too, shared many of those symptoms in 2017 after his freshman swim season.

A reporter asked Manuel if she thought that overtraining syndrome was common with swimmers. She said she could not answer that, having just heard this diagnosis for the first time, but that she supposed it was quite common. Swimmers work so hard, for so long, trying to turn their bodies into hydrodynamic machines, that we often hear of injuries, burnout, depression, anxiety, stomach and sleep issues. But these symptoms are not often treated as credible. Without understanding, without the official diagnosis, swimmers have trouble finding solutions from doctors, parents, coaches. The diagnosis came at a terrible time for Manuel, but the understanding of doctors and coaches who allowed her to rest - that was fortunate.

By offering her story and being so vulnerable with a nation full of swimmers wondering "why?" Simone Manuel shone a light on a patchwork of problems in our sport. Too much difficult training can ruin an athlete - even a world class athlete. But this story has a happy ending. At the urging of her doctors and her coach, Manuel rested for three weeks in April, a thing absolutely unheard of just a month before Trials. Though she missed the final of the 100 free last week, she persevered through prelims and semifinals in the 50 meter free, and last night she won, landing on a second Olympic team. America's sprint queen is headed for Tokyo, and a more worthy winner I cannot imagine.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Unapologetic Aqua Fangirl

"I know what you're watching!"

My sister's text arrived as Lilly King smashed her way to a fabulous time at the United States Olympic Trials. Arguably the best meet in swimming - even, potentially, more tense and exciting than the Olympic Games - the U.S. Trials offer the best possible TV to a swimming geek like myself.  I gasp and cheer like an unapologetic fan-girl next to my long-suffering kids and husband, who won't see the remote control for the next week.

Though I don't know the athletes personally, SwimLabs has hosted many of them (they film video for our Champions' Library - they don't take lessons!) and one of my Masters swimmers is a stroke-and-turn judge. A handful of swimmers grew up competing in Colorado and are familiar names to my kids, especially William who has competed against some of them in state. We search for familiar names and faces like our backyard chickadees hunting for sunflower seeds.

William alternately watches the races and plays games or snapchats on his phone. He's trying to manage personal dreams of records and victories as his high school squad prepares for league and state championships, delayed until late June because of pandemic scheduling. His 200 medley relay wants the state record (only .13 faster than their current time) and could take aim at the national high school record. Meanwhile, his legs still hurt from training and he worries about starts and turns, so the Trials  offers both distraction and a chance to get nervous all over again.

I'm fully aware that swimming is not life-or-death, and that my children's swim times have no bearing on their future livelihood. In fact, it's the non-fatal attraction of sport that keeps me zoned in, the pleasant emotional upheaval of wins or losses instead of the existential crises of global warming and COVID. 

We were supposed to be at these Trials - would have been at them if the pandemic hadn't moved events back a year - but the refund we received for our tickets helped to pay for a trip to Greensboro, North Carolina in July. Aden and I are going to compete in a Masters National event there, a meet that will be much slower than Trials but equally exciting for its participants. My friend from our record-setting 200 free relay (13-14 girls in New England) will be there, too, and I'm excited both for our reunion and the fact that she is in a younger age group than I am!

The sport of swimming consistently offers me a mental health break, a physical outlet, and an amazing community. When Aden and William are both at CU and I am bereft of their high school swim activities, I hope to join the coaching staff of a girls' high school team in this area. I love helping athletes grow in their love and knowledge of the sport and I love being a cheerleader on the sidelines. Being in person trumps standing and shouting at the TV, though at the moment, I am glad to have both.


Friday, June 11, 2021

I am Not Over the Pandemic

The afterglow of graduation and ensuing parties has worn off, while exhaustion and a shocking heat wave knocked me flat for a few days last week. Despite my ongoing efforts to keep gratitude at the forefront, deep-seated frustrations and bitterness caused by the pandemic have re-emerged, like prickly weeds bursting through a crack in the sidewalk.

At William's final home swim meet, already worn down by emotional goodbyes to parents, their boys, even the pool itself, I overheard junior parents talking about their sons' pending college searches. I immediately left the area, overcoming the urge to scream "test scores don't matter !" "there's no scholarship money!" and "everything has changed!"  Junior parents don't need to hear further words of warning, at least not from me. The coming year and their college search might be more conventional than ours was in a historic 2020. 

After a night of restless sleep, dreaming of missed swim races and evaporating ties to high school meets, I walked with two friends in the cool of the morning. We exclaimed over the lovely summer flowers and happy dogs out for an early stroll. But when the conversation turned to religion, I again felt lightning flashes of frustration. Online church services and regular emails helped me only marginally during the lockdown, and I now feel separated from our church, divorced from my spirituality. 

Despite good intentions to meditate, I never resumed my long-dead practice, and my early morning alone-time during the pandemic was most often spent reading headlines. I realize that my spiritual disappointment and frustration should be aimed internally and not my place of worship, which did all it could to support people virtually. That knowledge doesn't diminish my disappointment or feelings of isolation.

How long will it take me, will it take our society, to recovery from the pandemic and resulting lock downs, social distancing and revamping of social norms? Are we even out of the pandemic now?  I wrote that our graduation party for William and his friends was "post-pandemic" but I fear I spoke too soon. Headlines continue to mourn deaths in India, wail about ten thousand Olympic volunteers defecting in Tokyo. My grievances continue to emerge at odd times and to eyebrow-raising effect. I hope I'm just reflective enough to place blame on the historic virus and not the people or institutions which - like me - were just trying to survive the best they could.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Post-Pandemic Carnival

William graduated on Friday morning and hit the grad party circuit after a brief nap, while Rob and I joined other parents to set up a grad party for him and four friends he's been connected with since pre-K. A Colorado sun blazed in the royal blue sky and sweat dripped into my eyes as I tied balloons to each boy's shade tent. The tents covered posters filled with pictures illustrating each young man's journey from babyhood to present, and we each took a few moments to look at the photos between hauling tables and filling coolers.

Early guests arrived before we could take a photo of the boys together or even finish preparations, and they wandered down the row of tents peering at pictures and happily greeting neighbors, who came out of the woodwork on the first fine day of the first "level clear" weekend in Colorado. The party took on the form of a reunion for our Willow Creek community; as the teenagers clumped to confab or dispersed in groups to play spike ball and volleyball, the adults greeted friends from across the neighborhood that may well have been on the other side of the country during the pandemic. 

"It's a carnival!" said one passerby.

"It's a post-pandemic reunion!" said a neighbor.

"It's going as fast as a wedding," we party-planners said as we rushed pass one another to get more food or beverages.

Everywhere I looked, vaccinated teens were laughing, joking, playing; an antidote to the pandemic, a toss of the head to social distancing. We took time out between conversations to marvel at their happiness and feel relief soaring like the red, white and blue helium balloons that our kids had achieved a sort of normalcy at the very end of their high school careers.

Friends shared endless stories of surviving the pandemic. Markedly absent was the usual glossing over of tough events, no one said "oh, the pandemic was fine" or "we did great!"  Instead we discussed a new wine habit, a basement renovation, other inexplicable big purchases. One friend bought a potter's wheel for stress relief after watching "The Great Pottery Throw Down" with her son. "But Mom," he said in exasperation when he learned of the purchase, "We only watched three episodes! Three! We don't even know if we like pottery."

"But it was on sale, on Amazon," she told us and we nodded wisely, bonded by our myriad uses of Amazon to survive months trapped inside the house with our families.

When darkness fell shortly after 9:00, the teens melted away and adults lingered around the edges, helping us fumble through the party take-down, conducted by cell-phone flashlight and shout-outs as we wobbled across the grass. Before he left to go to another party, my son gave me a big hug and thanked me for the evening. "It was so great," he said, "Thank you so much for everything."

I didn't buy a pottery wheel, a new car, or a new basement in the past year, but we did buy over 200 ice cream cones, myriad brownies, whoopie pies and rice krispie treats, and endless bottles of seltzer for last Friday. Was it worth it, even if not on Amazon sale? How can you even ask? For an post-pandemic carnival, and for my son's heartfelt thank you, I wouldn't change a thing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Graduation Week

It's graduation week. Graduation cards and thank you notes blanket William's place at the kitchen table, a long list of people he need to thank covers his cloth napkin. Our friends and family have been so generous that William jokes about the transfer of wealth from my generation to his, which certainly feels true to my checkbook. But I feel lucky to be writing notes of congratulations and checks to William's friends and so grateful to those who send those notes to my son. After the traumatic 15 months these teens have just endured, a weight of worry rises from my chest when I think of all the happy graduates, and the in-person ceremony to come on Friday. I'll be crying buckets when they march into the stadium but inside I'll be thrilling to the rituals they get to experience.

The rainy Memorial Day weekend was a blessing, an excuse to be indoors to clean and prepare for Bill and Connie's arrival. (I haven't seen them in more than a year and a half - insane.) The wet afternoon also provided cover for William and me to go through the past 18 years of photos and family videos, picking out the most relevant for his trifold display board. We'll put the board up at his shared grad party on Friday night, showcasing his cute round baby face and the adorable photos of his friends. The boys shared baseball, basketball, swimming, water polo, camping, boy scouts, school performances and countless other childhood rites.

William 's neighborhood friends have grown with him. The photos we picked out include their cherubic baby cheeks and gap-toothed smiles since they were at most two or three years old when they started playdates and park visits together. William's friends and their families are part of our chosen family and we wouldn't have made it over the hurdles of the past 17 years without them. 

Though I don't typically dwell on future events, the idea of this graduation party has crossed my mind over the years, especially when we celebrated the graduations of older siblings. We moms never doubted that this core group would still be linked, that the bonds of growing up together would hold. Now the cherished idea of finishing K-12 the way we started it - with dear friends at our side - will come to fruition on Friday. Gratitude fights with nostalgia for primacy in my mind, and underneath that battle lies a quiet happiness, a sure knowledge that we are blessed in community, and my children will understand that forever.