When I was about eight or nine years old, a cruel twist of fate made me miss the opportunity to meet some Olympic swimmers who were the guests of honor at my swim team’s annual banquet. I’m embarrassed to admit that I can’t remember the swimmers’ names, or even what year they competed in the Olympics (’84?), but I can still feel the disappointment I felt that night at having missed my chance.
That memory resurfaced several times for me as I attended the AT&T Winter National Swimming Championships, held at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center. Having recently rediscovered my love for swimming (after years of being away from the sport), I was looking forward to seeing—in person—some of the nation’s most elite swimmers. This illustrious group included, of course, several familiar faces from the 2012 London Olympic Games: Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte, and former Longhorn swimmers Kathleen Hersey and Ricky Berens, among others.
On the last night of the meet, sitting behind me in the nosebleed seats was a little girl with her father. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as the girl craned her neck for a view of Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky. I laughed as she gave a play-by-play account of each race to her dad. As the evening wore on and the spectators began to thin out, her father turned to her and asked, “Have you had enough inspiration? Or do you need to see some more?”
“Just one more race, dad?” she pleaded—again, and again.
There was much about the meet that was impressionable to me—witnessing American records being shattered, cheering for my favorite athletes, and even managing to snag an autograph or two (thank you Nathan Adrian and Ricky Berens! I’ll get you next time, Missy Franklin!)—but watching the enthusiasm of that little girl, and of the dozens of other young swimmers in attendance, is what stood out to me the most.
I wondered how many up-and-coming swimmers would leave the Texas Swim Center that night with renewed enthusiasm to wake up at an ungodly hour the next morning so they could hit the pool. I wondered how many kids who didn’t know how to swim would ask their parents if they could start taking lessons. I wondered how many of these same kids would make their own debut at Winter Nationals in 2022.
How many will shatter American records themselves?
Drive comes from within, but sometimes an event—for example, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see your hero(es) in person—provides just enough inspiration to push you through your self-imposed limits…or at least motivates you to try.
As for this 33-year-old—my alarm is already set for 6 a.m. swim practice.
Courtenay Verret is a freelance writer in Austin. You can follow her swimming adventures on Twitter @Cour10AV