Here's an inspiring and encouraging article of a DAM Swimmer's experience at the National Senior Olympics, submitted by DAM Swimmer Mark Braly.
THE BATTLE FOR LAST PLACE
By Mark Braly
It was the second day of the National Senior Olympics swimming events, and it had not got off to a good start. Mounting the diving platform, I felt a little shaky, but I didn’t ask for help. Would you if you were wearing Olympic style red, white, and blue Speedo with stars and stripes on the front and USA on the bottom? I think not. But it was a mistake not to reach out for a steadying hand. Poised on the diving platform waiting for the urgent sound of the starting horn, I leaned just a little too much into my dive and kept going toward the water just a fraction of a second before the horn blew. It was so close that I hoped the judges hadn’t seen it; so I swam as if nothing had happened. No such luck. The cheerful lady in white approached me a yellow ticket in hand, the sign for DQ, disqualified.
I had much to make up for. Two years before at the nationals at Stanford, I had finished dead last in every event in which I was not disqualified. With that record in mind, I scaled down my hopes for a medal in the Houston nationals last spring to something more realistic: beat someone.
This I had not yet done and time was running out. On the first day, my wife Pat, her sister, and my brother-in-law turned out to be my cheering section, but there was little to cheer. My overweight brother-in-law, Nyles, dared to coach me, saying my kicking was weak. He said he had learned to swim as a kid in the dangerous waters of Buffalo Bayou, Houston’s unattractive water feature that cuts through the city.
The last event, the 500-yard freestyle, was coming up. My seed time – my best recorded time for that event – was last in a field of eight men over 75. My only hope was the beat a man from Tennessee whose seed time was only a bit faster than mine. The problem was that he had filled the stands with his supporters, while mine had dwindled to two. Nyles couldn’t come but said he would be taking up competitive swimming. That lasted a week.
The event started well. I didn’t fall in. I made an almost perfect dive followed by rapid dolphin kicks that took me half way down the first lap before surfacing. I am known for stamina rather than speed. I thought: pace yourself, but stay in the pack until the time comes for a fast finish. The Tennessean was two lanes to my right, and I could barely see him. His form seemed okay: nice high strokes, good reach and grab of water, straight elbows pushing water through to a full extension. This was no beginner.
This continued for about 14 of the 20 pool lengths in the 500. He stayed in sight but slightly ahead. Around this time, the sound of cheering rose from the stands. My two supporters were drowned out by his, and yet I felt it was all for me. Steady on for another lap or two: stroke, pull, stroke, pull, stroke, pull, while trying to concentrate on a stronger kick.
Then, as I saw Pat holding up the number 19, I turned on the speed, bursting out of my turn into the last lap with the thunder of the crowd in my ears. Cries of “Go, Grandpa!’ rose above the din. My goggles were misty; so I couldn’t see my competitor. All I could do was my best: stroke, pull, kick, stroke, pull, kick, stroke, pull, kick. The roar of the crowd was deafening as I reached out for the wall. I snatched off my goggles and squinted at the score board: Braly, 7 out of 8.
It was a photo finish but I beat the Tennessean by two seconds. A thrill for the crowd as much it was for me.
(DAM members interested in participating in the senior games – anyone 50 or over – check out this website for upcoming games: www.californiaseniorgames.org/calendar)