Freestyling with McGinnis: March 12
I'd like to start off by saying that this year's Big 12 Championship swim meet was the most fun I've ever had at a competition. That is truly saying something, as I have been on a lot of fantastic trips and experienced some great times. However, this meet felt different because as a whole, everyone seemed satisfied with the way things were going. Guys were swimming fast left and right, and it was as if we were all on board a great new roller coaster, simply having fun and experiencing the ride.
I'd like to share a recap of the most memorable night of the swim meet, and arguably the most thrilling of my athletic career. It happened the opening night of the competition. This story starts the night before, when I was chatting with a friend through instant messenger, and somehow we came around to discussing the first race of the meet, the 800 freestyle relay. I joked with my friend by proclaiming that our relay would shatter every record in the books. However, the statement felt like a joke made in good fun. As it turns out, I am quite the prognosticator.
The night of the relay, I was very nervous. As a senior, I really wanted to do well, and I'm very nit-picky about how my arms and legs pull in the water the day of a swim. If I believe I am struggling to swim at a speed that sometimes feels easy, I have a tendency to develop a great deal of anxiety and trepidation. That opening night, I felt emotionally fretful and hoped I would "feel right" when the race began.
I hadn't talked much to the other relay members, and when I did, I tried to keep the talk positive. I've never seen any point in expressing doubt to another team member. Even when I have doubt, I believe it is important to express optimism and convey confidence in order to keep everyone around me upbeat and positive. Emotions are contagious, and this can work to a person's advantage or disadvantage.
Last year, we had the same relay: Dave Walters, myself, Michael Klueh and Ricky Berens. We narrowly missed setting the Texas team record. I had never earned a team record before, and was beginning to worry I never would. Though I didn't want to think about it, the thought began creeping into my mind anyway.
About an hour before this year's relay started, I noticed the other three guys were very excited. I approached Dave Walters and quietly said, "Dave, I've been here a long time, almost four years, and I haven't been a part of a record-setting relay before. I think we can go 6:18.00 though (the Texas team record)." Dave immediately replied with words I don't specifically remember, but the meaning behind his words was, "We're going to do something special tonight." A few minutes later, distance ace and relay member Michael Klueh told me the same thing. Before I had time to develop doubt, we were behind the starting blocks in our racing suits, about to swim.
Dave Walters led off the relay and was swimming at a blazing speed from the start. Halfway through his swim, I looked back at the time clock. He was out under American record pace. Another two laps went by, and he was still going strong, refusing to fade from a strong pace. I knew he was well on his way to something especially fast. As the second of four guys to swim, I didn't get to look at his total time, but I was certain he was much faster than he was a year ago, and likely well under the Texas team record for the 200 freestyle. I was the second person to swim. The only thought in my mind was, "keep the fast pace going. Don't let up. Dave established something amazing here. Now it's time to keep it going."
The ensuing eight laps felt like a blur. I would breathe to the side occasionally to see Texas team members jumping up and down, motioning for me to keep the effort up. I was hoping to touch the wall and see that we were still under our team-record pace. I touched and looked up at the clock, hoping to catch glimpse of a time in the vicinity of 3:08. I was shocked to see that the time on the clock read 3:05. We were not just under team record pace: we were under AMERICAN record pace!
An American Record had never actually entered my mind that night. It was so much faster than what the four of us have ever managed to do that I reasoned it would be out of the question to really expect it of myself, or of the other guys. However, when Michael Klueh jumped in the water as the third relay member, I covered my mouth with my hand in awe of what was happening.
Four laps into his race I calculated his pace from watching the clock behind me. His first four laps were much faster than they had ever been for him, and because he is known as a strong finisher and great distance swimmer, I began to realize that we were about to make history. As he finished, I did not even need to look at his total time. I knew we were going faster than any relay had before, and both the announcer and crowd confirmed it. As soon as our anchor, Ricky Berens jumped in, I began jumping up and down in excitement.
I'm not usually a person who likes to indulge in victory celebrations after a race. The occasional Hook 'em Horns sign and a nod to my teammates usually suffices. However, nothing like this had ever happened to me before, and I couldn't contain my excitement. I kept shouting, "American Record! We're going to break it, Michael! We're going to break it!"
All four of us were gleaming. Dave, Michael and I were celebrating before Ricky had reached the halfway point of his final 200 yards because we knew that even with a slow final few laps we would break the American Record. Ricky's split ended up being extremely fast. He touched the wall, and it had finally happened. I was a part of a record that would be put up at the Texas Swimming Center. It was a total team effort in which every one of us was essential.
The weekend, in my mind, was great as a team. We qualified enough people for the NCAA's to make a great impact if we all choose to take care of ourselves over the next few weeks. There is nothing more rewarding in swimming than swimming a new personal-best time, and I, along with a large number of Texas swimmers, did a great deal of that over the weekend. As a result, it was hard to wipe the smile off my face. It still is. We can't be satisfied, however. There's still a lot of competition left at the NCAA's, and the next step is to prepare for some hard, fun racing ahead.
Until next time, when I talk about resting for the final meet of the season.