What it Really Meant by Erika Gulija (2010)
“Good work girls, keep it up. Think about the championships, they’re less than a month away. Stephanie, you call that the butterfly! Where is your dolphin kick?!” Emily kicked her legs faster; she smashed her arms through the water harder and reached out to grab the wall less than a foot away.
“Nice work Em,” Coach said as she observed the rest of the girls completing their repeat laps. The rest of the swimmers were progressively approaching the end of the pool and coming out of the water to catch their breath. Like normally Emily had finished first and with perfect form. She pulled herself out of the water and sat on the pool ledge, recovering from her intense work out. “Looks good girls. Madeline, your flutter kick is off though, it’s messing up your stroke and it’s going to throw you off.” Madeline barely nodded her head as she took fast short breaths. “Stephanie, nice work, just keep your head down. Emily, perfect as always,” Coach announced to the group as everybody took off their goggles and caught their breath. Like most coaches knew, the best time to talk to athletes or give them criticism is right after a work out, when they are to tired to talk back. “Let’s get some mileage in over the weekend. Emily, you know as well as I do, how many laps is a mile?” Coach asked. Emily looked up from staring down at her feet.
“Um…” Emily considered this for a second. “In the Olympic sized pool it’s 42.” Coach over looked the swimmers before her and saw the same look on all their faces, which feared how many of those forty-two laps they would be doing.
” I want three miles,” Coach said. “So ladies, you do the math.” Coach winked and then blew her whistle indicating that practice was dismissed. Emily caught up with Liz, another swimmer from the team and they began to talk about Nationals, which was coming up soon.
“Competition looks tough this year. I hear that the times are getting faster,” Liz said. Just then Madeline burst into th e conversation.
“That’s a hundred twenty-six laps!” Madeline announced in shock. “That’s ridiculous Em,”
“Hey, if you want to make to make finals you got to put in the work for it,” Emily replied.
“Psh. Michael Felps doesn’t even swim that many laps.” Madeline sneered sarcastically and then went into the locker room to change out of her wet bathing suit. Liz and Emily approached the locker room with the rest of the group followed shortly behind. Emily threw on last years 2008 Division finalists t-shirt.
“Yeah, but Em it’s easy for you to say. You’ve made Regionals three years in a row. Some of us actually have to work for our spot.” Stephanie piped in as she wrung out her wet hair. Emily dropped her towel on the ground and Liz looked up in shock.
“You think I don’t work hard for my spot? Three practices a day, seven days a week. Every moment of my day is dedicated to swimming. Don’t think for a second I have it easy.”
“Look, everyone knows you’re coaches favorite. She’d do anything to get you as far as World’s, even if it means shaving a few seconds off your time,” Stephanie said as she slammed her locker shut and waited to see what Emily would say next.
“Please, Steph. Nadine doesn’t lie about my time,” Emily said closing her locker and grabbing her Nike bag off the bench. “And neither does the clock.”
Emily opened the back door to her mother’s black SUV and threw her Nike sports bag into the back seat. She jumped into the front seat as her mom applied her lipstick in the rearview mirror.
“Hey sweetie,” her mother said as she drove out of the parking lot. “How was practice? Was coach hard on you guys today? She must be with Championships just around the corner.” Her mother looked over to Emily for a response.
“It was okay,” Emily said as she stared out the window. Whenever she was upset she always looked out the window at the cars passing by and looked at the people in them. She pictured herself in their shoes and tried to imagine what their life could be like. She pretended to be them and live their life for just a second, so she could escape her own.
“Well, we better go ahead and order your new suit if we want it to be here for the Championships,” Emily’s mother said as she merged into the next lane.
“I don’t need a new suit,” Emily grumbled.
“Well actually it doesn’t matter if you need one,” Emily looked up confused. “Champion called today,” her mother began as she put on her sunglasses, which indicated things were about to get serious. “They want to sponsor you.” Emily looked up in surprise.
“They want to sponsor me?” Emily couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She couldn’t believe that what her mother was saying was true. People had told her that in the future she would have all those companies after her, but Emily couldn’t believe that a company like Champion would want her to represent them.
“So, that means that if you want this, they are your company now. You where Champions line of swim wear and you compete in their name. Emily, your career starts here. Do you realize how big this is? Do you realize what this can do for you?” Emily considered this for a moment. She knew that being sponsored by companies as big as Champion was major. Emily sat back against the car seat, shaking her head in disbelief. Emily imagined her picture on the wall of a Champion store in NYC. It would read; when you swim like a Champion, you are a Champion.
“What’s that sweetie?” Her mother asked. Emily didn’t realize that she had just said that out loud, but the thrill that was still running through her body like when you hit the top of a roller coaster took over and she couldn’t even find the words to speak.
“Don’t forget to clerk in girls,” Coach Nadine yelled. All the girls had dropped their bags in the stands. “Get pumped up ladies, for some of you it’s the biggest meet of your lives.” They had just arrived at State Championships; here they would race the top swimmers in the states. If they achieved to the final round, that would determine who would be going on to Regionals. After that was Worlds. Emily had never made it that far before. The farthest she had gone was finals of Regionals, but everybody was so sure that this would be her year.
“Woah Em, go shopping yesterday? Your decked out in a new swimming suit, new swim cap, new bag,” Liz said. Of course Stephanie couldn’t keep her mouth close for long.
“Yeah somebody had a field day at Champion,” Stephanie grabbed the towel and went over to the clerk in area. Liz bent over to grab her towel and through it around her shoulders. Emily wrapped her goggles around her arm.
“If I didn’t know better I’d think they sponsored you,” Liz giggled, but after the long silence that followed things became clear. “Oh. My. Gosh. Em! That’s crazy! I can’t believe this. You’re sponsored! Next year you’re going off to college and now this is going to get you a full scholarship. Em, you’re going to be in the Olympics! Oh my gosh, sign my swim cap!” Emily laughed; she could always count on Liz to blow things out of proportion.
“Oh Lizzy. Get you’re goggles, we’ll go clerk in.”
“On your mark,” The official sternly said in to the megaphone. “Get set.” This wa s it. Emily grabbed the edge of the pool. She placed both feet on the wall and then just like that, the gun fired and this was the race that would send her on, but it meant so much more than that. This was the final round and among the eight finalists were Emily and Stephanie. Emily pushed her feet off the wall. Emily remembered the words that Stephanie had said to her as they changed in her swimsuit earlier today.
“You know you’re going to make it to finals Em,” Stephanie began. “But, this year you can count on me making it there too. We’ll see who’s really the better swimmer. You’ve had it all handed to you up until now. How’s it going to look when Champion’s newest swimmer gets beat by the un-know girl,” Stephanie put air quotes around un-know girl, referring to herself.
“Well we won’t have to worry about that now will we because if this race will be handed to me like the rest of my career, I guess it only makes sense that I win this one too,” Emily said sarcastically.
“I guess we will see. Like you said. Clocks don’t lie. It’s going to be just you and me Em.”
And sure enough it was. Stephanie had breezed her way into finals, but now this was the best of the best. Emily was half way down the pool when she noticed she was in last place. Stephanie was in the lead. This wasn’t the way it was suppose to go. Emily had never had trouble competing. She never had trouble winning either. This was her chance though; her chance to prove to Stephanie that she earned her way here. Just like that Emily snapped into racing mode. She slammed her arms harder than ever and kicked her legs until she couldn’t feel them. When she kicked off the wall, she realized that she had bumped herself into third place which technically would take her into Regionals, but it meant more than that. Emily looked over at Stephanie. She saw that Stephanie had thought she had this race and with one hundred meters left, she mostly likely did, but Emily wasn’t going down that easy. She found herself passing the second place girl. Everything went silent. Everything slowed down. Emily reached for the wall in front of her. She pulled herself out of the water and close behind her, so did Stephanie. The last few swimmers finished up and all looked up at the scoreboard for the results. In big clear letters Emily’s last name was placed next to a tiny number one. That meant first place. That meant Emily had done it. That meant she had won. Emily looked over at Stephanie and for the first time she smiled at Emily like she really meant it.
“You proved yourself Em. You really are number one,” Stephanie said over the roar of the crowd. But those few words that Stephanie had just spoken really meant so much more.
Southampton Intermediate, Grade 8