The last lap of the pool meant more than the previous three put together. Every broken second counted. I had been practicing this part for weeks, for I knew that this was my one weakness. I could hear the voice of my coach bellowing over the slapping of the water against my head as I would swim on, lap after lap, late into the night, with only the blurry yellow lights inside the pool to guide me on.
“The last lap, the last lap!” he screamed furiously, every time my head burst out through the surface of the water, to steal a breath and then plunge in again. I was tiring fast. It was almost over anyway. I could see past the remaining length of the pool to where my finishing point was. After three hours of swimming and workouts, the speed laps were the toughest to endure, every time. And this little bit, towards the end, still got tougher. Just half a length more, I would say to myself, my muscles willing to give away with pain any moment now. It would be over soon, though never to Coach’s satisfaction. But not today…Oh no, not today!
All I had done today before the race was stretching and ten minutes of warm ups. Yet, as I stood near the edge of the water, waiting for the shrill whistle to pierce through the hush of the hundreds gathered there, I was overcome by fatigue. Eight weeks of sweat and pain, three hours a day, and continuous abuses from Coach that felt like hot iron rods on my already-bruised ego.
It all went numb when the whistle sounded, and my body automatically responded. It was a machine now, knowing fully well what to do. I sliced through the surface of the still, chilly water with a smooth dive, and from then on, I only knew water. Water in front of my eyes blocking my sight, in my ears cutting out all sound, in my nose not allowing me to breathe, and all around me… It was the only world I knew now.
What had been still water less than a second ago was now pulsating with the energy of eight swimmers pushing against it fiercely, each competing only against one common foe-the water. It weighed down their muscles, slowed their pace, and most of all, sapped away the desire to win when fatigue hit them head-on. But that was the joy of it; being one with water, understanding its laws of buoyancy, and using them to advantage.
For me, this was home. One, two and three…the first three laps went by exactly as Coach and I had planned. I was quick, but controlled. As I finished third and rebounded against the wall for my fourth and last, I gambled a second to look beside me to see I was third. But that look had cost me dear. I was now fifth.
This being the last lap, I knew that like me, everyone else would be in top gear, for speed was priority. Speed was my strength, always, right from the beginning. But never in the last lap…