Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sweet Sixteen

It's been a busy couple of weeks, and I will have to blog about it in more detail later, but I wanted to get this out tonight for family members who have been following Anna's activities.

When Anna was the age that most kids start taking swim lessons, we were overwhelmed with autism and newborn Grace, so Anna didn't get to do a lot of activities that many kids get to do. Unfortunately, with kids starting sports at such an early age these days, if you don't start young you're often left behind. By the time she started swim lessons she was 2-3 years older than all the kids in her class (and since she's always been 95th percentile for height it looks like she's even older than that). It was the same with gymnastics. When she tried soccer she was put with kids her age, but then she was in the uncomfortable position of having to learn a new sport with kids who had already been playing 3 or 4 years. So a couple of years ago, when a heard about a neighbor lady offering private swim lessons just down the street from us, I quickly signed the kids up.

With the one-on-one instruction, Anna quickly caught up. But she still not what I'd consider a great swimmer. She would be able to swim independently in a pool without us having to be too worried about her, but as far as technique was concerned she had a long way to go. So when the instructor suggested at the end of last summer I sign Anna up for swim team I thought she was nuts. But this instructor coaches for a couple of local swim teams, so I figured she must know better than I do. Anna was excited about the idea, and even offered to drop soccer and gymnastics to try swim team.

So we signed her up for the team that the neighbor helps coach. It is a year-round team and the beginning level practices 2-3 times a week. It started out a little rough. Anna hardly knew anybody and she knew little about swimming. Marc and I knew less than her, so we were no help! She looked very awkward in the pool. She was extremely slow compared to the others in her group (again, mostly kids who were younger than her). Anna is a perfectionist, so you could tell she was really thinking about how she was supposed to swim rather than just going for it like most kids do. Sometimes it was almost painful to watch. But her coaches were great by really encouraging her.

Eventually she started to make progress. We didn't sign her up for any meets right away, but finally in December we decided to give it a try. The first meet is very stressful for both parent and child, because you have no idea what you're doing. Your biggest concern is just getting your child to their event. Once I got her to her event, I was just praying she didn't get last place. Looking back, that sounds so selfish. Somebody has to be last place, and it's not the end of the world if it happens to your child. But I just didn't want her getting too discouraged. Fortunately, she did not get last place (she wasn't too far from there though). We did a few more meets and her confidence improved. We didn't sign up for a lot of events, just a couple of easier ones. So while some kids would be entered in a whole day's worth of events, she would sometimes go to a meet for just one event (about a minute or two of actual swimming). As the year went on she started making some friends, and she was improving every week in her swimming abilities.

By the time summer rolled around she was very into swimming. She said she had found her sport. In the summer many kids also compete in a summer swim conference of neighborhood teams. It's supposed to be less competitive than the year-round teams, so many kids will join who don't swim year round. So we signed Anna up for a summer team in addition to her year-round team. This has been such an amazing experience for her. Since she's been in the pool almost twice a day all summer, she's improved dramatically. She's now able to swim events like butterfly and IM that she couldn't do in the spring. Most importantly, she really loves the sport. When I pick her up from practice she can't wait to tell me how she improved her pullout that day (maybe someday I will know what a pullout is!).

So here is where the bragging starts. She achieved qualifying times for ALL the individual events for the all-conference meet (think summer league version of the Olympics). She was so excited. The preliminaries for the conference meet were last night. I struggled a bit on how to encourage her. I tried to remind her what an accomplishment it was to just be there. I didn't want her to get her hopes up too high. As I looked at the swimmers names listed in the psych sheet (fancy swimmer term for program) many of them were names I recognized from the year-round meets, so we knew the competition would be tough. Anna stayed calm and had a great attitude. She wanted to do her best, but she was just going to enjoy herself.

As the meet got started things went as we expected. Her team in the medley relay came in last place. Her first individual event was the freestyle. She won her heat and took more than a second off her time, but placed 27th overall (out of 38). She was so excited about winning her heat that she didn't care about being 27th.

Her best event was next -- backstroke. Looking at the psych sheet, we were shocked to find out that she was seeded 17th out of 53 swimmers. The top 16 would advance to the finals. I was afraid that she would feel too much pressure, but she remained calm and happy. She remarked that she had a good warm-up and knew just how many strokes she needed before her turn. She was ready to go.

Again, she took more than a second off her time. But it was likely that everyone else improved as well, so we would have to wait and see. I was much more anxious about it than she was. I will have to work on being calm like her. She swam her IM shortly thereafter and did not do great, but she took that in stride as well. She was done for the night and said she was ready to go home.

"Don't you want to wait for the results for the backstroke to be posted?" I pleaded.

"Nah, I'm ready to go to bed."

Well, we ended up waiting anyway because someone had parked so close behind my car that I couldn't get out. As the official taped the results sheet on the wall, I peered over the crowd at the results. Anna stayed off to the side, but finally started to show some anticipation.

She did it!
She had the sixteenth best time!

You would have thought she had won the Olympics by our reactions. In fact, as I went to bed last night I wondered how the moms of Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff do it. I was so excited for my kid that it took me over an hour to fall asleep last night. I don't think any of us care how she does tomorrow night in the finals. I'm just so glad that God has blessed her with something that makes her happy. I am encouraged by how far she has come in less than a year in this sport. It's a good thing to remember in other areas of life, like autism. And I am encouraged that she has maintained such a great attitude. I am confident that she would still have viewed the night a success if she had come in 17th.

Update: She did even better at the finals!!! She took more than a second off her time AGAIN and placed 13th. Here is her swim from the final:

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