Not Just Water | Graham Lindner

    As the official blows the long whistle, I step up onto the block, towering above the pool. In front of me, the blue water stretches on for what seems like hundreds of miles. To the right, opponents perform their pre-race rituals while the floor-to-ceiling windows bathe the scene in sunlight. To the left, the diligent spectators and my teammates wait at attention, ready to burst into cheers the minute the buzzer rings. Behind the blocks, the timers prepare for yet another race and swimmers mentally ready themselves for the next grueling event. The Loyola Blakefield pool carries a myriad of sights to the attention of the anxious swimmer standing on the blocks.
    As I look in front of me from my elevated vantage point, the deep blue water dominates my field of vision. Ripples flow across the surface and wash into the gutter like waves lapping gently onto the shores of a lake. The water possesses a deep blue tint, contrasting sharply with the white bottom of the pool. On the bottom, the black line guides the path of the lane, ensuring that even the most wayward of swimmers can keep a straight course. Between each lane lie the only barriers that separate an orderly race from complete chaos. The blue and gold lanelines extend from one end of the pool to the other, like ropes tethering together two ships. Finally, at the top of my peripheral vision, I spot the backstroke flags, watching the pool from above. White letters spell out the words “Loyola Blakefield” on alternating blue and yellow flags strung out across the width of the pool.
    To the right, my opponents on the other blocks each act out their private rites to prepare themselves for the race. One swimmer swings his arms haphazardly with his eyes staring straight ahead, completely unaware of anything around him. Another looks around nervously, while a third simply stands stock-still with an expression of apathy painted on his face. Beyond the other swimmers, great floor-to-ceiling windows tower above the pool. Sunlight streams in, bathing the pool in bright yellow light and almost blinding anyone looking directly at it. In between each window lie sections of concrete adorned with the championship banners of swim teams past. The dark blue banners with their white lettering and trim seem to flutter against the backlight of the sun. Underneath the windows and banners runs a long wooden bench covered with the colorful bags of dozens of swimmers.
    On my left, the spectators and my teammate’s faces contain numerous expressions and emotions. My coach bends over in trepidation with a pained expression mixing anxiety and excitement. My teammates line the side of the pool. A few stand with headphones, heads nodding to the beat of their pump-up songs. Others, who receive a boost of energy from the fast swims of their peers, wait with fists raised in anticipation of the buzzer that signals the beginning of the race. In the metal bleachers behind the glass barrier, two different groups make up the spectators. The first group, composed mostly of parents, have once again donned their blue and gold shirts, blue and gold beads, and blue and gold pants. The second group, made up of unwilling siblings and uniformed casual observers, sit on their phones with blank and bored expressions on their faces.
    Behind me sit the faithful volunteers of every swim meet as well as swimmers soon to be in my position. The timers stand as still as stone and stare at the official. One wields a stopwatch while the other holds a clipboard. A similar scene is played out behind every other block. The swimmers preparing for their races each work themselves up in a unique way. One wears a winter parka and sweatpants and does jumping jacks, while another in just his suit, cap, and goggles simply shakes out his arms and legs. A six foot four behemoth slaps his chest while a five foot eight runt talks amicably to the timer. Above all looms the clock. Alternating blue and gold letters spell out the names of the swimmers and their teams. Next to the swimmer’s team lies a black spot, soon to become the difference between victory and defeat.
    To a swimmer on the blocks before a race, the Loyola Blakefield pool contains a myriad of emotions, expressions, and sights. In front, the lanelines, flags, and water of the pool captivate my thoughts. To the right stand my opponents, engrossed in their rituals, and the blinding sunlight streaming through the great windows. To the left stand my coach, teammates, and the spectators, most waiting anxiously for the start of the race. Behind me, timers and swimmers mingle while the enormous clock oversees the whole affair. And suddenly, all of these thoughts retreat back into my head as the official mutters those fateful words. “Swimmers, take your marks.”