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.