By Joanna L., 7th Grade
As I clung onto the wall, the sun beat down on me, and sweat trickled down my back. I stared at the the girl in front of me, waiting for my name to be called for my evaluation. What if I traveled across the pool when I was supposed to stay in one place? What if I scored the lowest? What if I wasn’t good enough?
“Joanna? You’re next.” I dived into the pool of pure silence.
My whole body hurt. I didn’t know if I could still move. How did I get myself into this mess? It was simple. I was selected.
It was on the way home from practice one night. I couldn’t believe my ears. I was selected for the National Talent Camp for synchronized swimming? My mom confirmed my confusion and showed me the email. I was surprised, sure, but did I really want to go? It was the National Talent Camp. Around 16 of the best synchronized swimmers were coming to train. How would I fit with such seemingly perfect people?
But despite my doubts, it was a great opportunity. Thank goodness that someone else from Colorado was going as well, even though I had never met her. I flew to California with her and her coach. The closer we got to California, the more my stomach turned. I thought back to when I first started synchronized swimming. I was around 5 and a half, maybe six. At the time I joined for fun, to be able to make new friends while also being involved with a sport. And that’s what synchro was to me. The past 5 years I had lazed around and grown cocky. Colorado was not very strong, so I won first place without having to try. Now I was on my way to a place where people worked hard and didn’t give up. I had an itching feeling that I definitely would not fit in. What had I signed myself up for?
The flight had ended, and the camp had started. I looked around the unfamiliar airport. We were the first to arrive, so we had to wait for the other 14 girls to come before we could go to the college where we’d be training. We sat at the corner of the airport and waited. One by one the girls showed up. My stomach dropped lower with each one I saw. They looked so intimidating, like they were born for the sport.
The day we flew in was titled Day 0 out of 7. It wasn’t just time to settle in and relax. They handed us each a sheet of paper and asked us to answer the questions on it. The first asked what we had placed at Junior Olympics. This was embarrassing. I glanced at the girls around me. They wrote first, second, third, fourth. I wrote eighty-seventh. That night we also had flexibility. The exercises were a mystery. I could barely understand the directions, much less do the actual exercise. But as I looked around it seemed I was the only one who was lost.
The next day I couldn’t move. My body ached from the night before, and the real training hadn’t even begun. I pulled my legs out of my sleeping bag and balanced my feet on the ground. I stood up, just to come tumbling right down again. I wasn’t ready for this. I didn’t think I would be able to survive. It would be impossible. I looked around for my roommate. She was already gone. I dragged myself back on my feet and trudged to my drawer. As much as I wanted to climb back in bed and never move again, it was time to get ready for the first day.
I barely got through the first day, we had 6:30am breakfast, a quick 10 minute warm-up, 3 hours at the gym, thirty minutes of lunch, 3 hours at the pool, dinner, then another hour of deadly flexibility. I didn’t think I could do it. When coach ordered us into our splits with our hands in the air, the hood of my sweatshirt came over my head as hot tears poured out of my eyes. No one else was crying. I was a failure. I was the worst one here.
“Joanna. You are in the wrong position. Please fix yourself… No! You’re still in the wrong position. Joanna! At least try to fix it!” I didn’t fit in at all and didn’t deserve to even be here.
When I tumbled into bed that night, I thought that would be the worst of it. That they would take pity on us and make the next few days easier. I was wrong. The coaches told us to gather up the second day.
“Hey. You were all selected for this camp, you know? So why are you calling your parents to come pick you up? We can’t accept this. Please don’t call your parents. Don’t give up so soon.” I suddenly faced reality. People were asking their parents to pick them up, and it was only the second day. People were struggling just like me.
That day at the cafeteria I sat with the rest of the group. A girl took one look at her food and snorted.
“Urgh, how can someone eat tasteless food like this?”
Another girl perked up from across the table. She jumped out of her chair and yelled, “I’ll eat it!”
I laughed as the tray of food was pushed across the table to a pile of plates in front of a small girl. She smiled and I realised that they all had personality, and weren’t just competitive robots that solely sought for victory. After lunch we all went back to the pool.
“Ughh… I’m exhausted. Why can’t we just get a single day of rest or something?” someone exclaimed. I agreed with her and she laughed. When we arrived at the pool she sighed as I did the day before. We warmed up with sprints in the pool.
“Oh. My. Gosh. How do they expect us to swim that fast! We’re synchronized swimmers, not speed swimmers!”
“I know right! I’m dying over here. Literally.”
I grinned, knowing that I wasn’t alone. Then I tested my confidence and exclaimed, “I can’t believe I’m still alive!”
The girls all looked at me and smiled. “I know right!”
I began noticing areas where people felt out of place, just like me. We all had our strong points, and all had our weak points. It was the fourth day. My whole body ached, but so did everyone else’s. We were in this together. We could do this.
It was the last evaluation. The last practice. I swam out in front of the judges and took a deep breath. I performed the exercise. I survived the camp.
As I sat on the airplane back to Colorado I thought back to the beginning of the most hellish week of my life. But I also knew that I came out as a more confident and knowledgeable swimmer than I was before. More importantly, I learned that no matter how competitive a sport may be, it is the comradeship that made it survivable, enjoyable, and meaningful.