Tweet Tweet Tweet Tweet Tweet Tweet Tweeeeeet! The whistle blasts its shrill call.
It suddenly occurs to me that this may be the most important race of my life.
“Final heat ready!” says the starter into the microphone.
I finish my stretching and watch as second to final heat passes under the red, white, and blue flags on their way into the finish. I pull my goggles out and down, placing them over my eyes, the rubber gasket closing my eyes off from the impending rush of water. In the time it takes the last heat to finish final last stroke, my ideal race plays in my head like a movie set to fast-forward. Lanes 4 and 5 tie with a time of 53.85—half a second faster than my current best time. I will have to swim a personal best time to triumph.
Tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet! “Swimmers, enter the water feet first.”
I splash some cool water onto my face with my hands, and then stand. I pull my arms back and the throw them forward, lunging out into the water, my body breaking the frigid, calm surface and moving rapidly toward the bottom. I feel my feet hit the tiled bottom, and I bend my knees. Once I feel my legs compress enough, I bring my arms over my head, and drive my body up toward the surface. I reach the apex of my journey up, and as I descend, my hands shoot forward and seize the metal bar that runs under the starting block.
Tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet! The final ready whistle sounds.
“This is 100 meters backstroke. Swimmers, please place your feet.”
I put my feet on the starting pad, its surface covered with millions of grips, as if someone had raked it over and over with a metal-toothed comb. My left foot inches slightly higher than my right foot, and then swivels to achieve the maximum amount of traction. The hard, flat smell of Chlorine, and the light, salty smell of Bromine waft up from the water and mingle in my nose. Remnants of a previous swimmer’s wake splashes into the gutter, and a few drops of water fly into my mouth. Now I can taste the Bromine, its salinity overwhelming my taste buds. I glance over into the adjacent lanes and my brow furrows; the men in the lanes to either side are at least three inches taller than me apiece.
“Swimmers, take your marks,” the voice booms on the starting device.
I pull my arms toward me and push my chest into my knees, curling my body into a ball.
A brilliant flash of blue light fills the area. Directly following, a low, chromatic, electronic “beep.”
The beep reverberates in my skull. An instant after my brain acknowledges the sound, my muscles begin their precise, practiced movements. My arms flex, bringing my body up as my hands start to release. My legs push both up and out as I throw my arms back, forming a forty-five degree angle with my body. It is as if my body is exploding forth from the wall. Then, for a moment, I am completely airborne. Back arched, floating above the surface of the water for an instant, as if frozen in time. The moment shatters as my fingertips break the surface tension of the placid liquid and my body reenters the water in streamlined efficiency.