It all started when their parents decided that they should learn to swim. And isn’t that how it always starts, all over the world? Someone decides that little Junior or Juniorette “needs to be safe in the water.” And so a very small, shivering child sits on the edge of the pool deck, staring in horror at the kids gleefully sticking their entire heads into what amounts to a terrifying, mind-numbing, sensory (and air!) deprivation tank.
“Here we go! Let’s dunk ourselves in!” shouts a much-too-cheerful pseudo-mom swim teacher, and the kids shriek and dunk themselves into the water.
The kids who end up enjoying it move forward, taking class after class, until a teacher asks mom or dad if they have ever thought of “swim team.”
Sometimes the child joins the swim team for a season or so and beats a relatively hasty retreat. Swim team isn’t the same as swim lessons. On a swim team, a child will swim back and forth, back and forth. Without stopping. Without taking a break. Without eating a snack. Sometimes swimming doesn’t even happen. Kicking happens. Pulling happens. Drills happen. And on a swim team, being cold, sore, tired, and bored is…normal. The kids who realize quickly that this isn’t a typical or desirable state of being will probably pester mom or dad into letting her quit.
So who sticks it out? Is it merely the talented? The obedient? The child of ex-swimmers?
Sometimes a child is talented, and it’s obvious that she is meant to swim. That definitely happens.
Sometimes a child is too obedient to resist mom’s injunction to “work hard at swimming.” Sometimes a child is too obedient to tell the coach that she is miserable and wants to go home.
And certainly, sometimes a child has a family legacy of swimming, and understands that swim team is going to happen, regardless of her wishes.
What about the rest?
Why would any normal child spend so many hours being cold, swimming exhaustedly back and forth, back and forth?
Because of friendship.
Because something magical happens when you and ten other kids are shivering together in the same lane.
You are sad together. You are tired together. You are hungry together.
Afterwards, there is a shower.
You take a long, long time in the shower.
Someone asks to borrow some shampoo. You realize you’ve forgotten your snack money and people rush to share their bags of chips with you. If you have your snack money, there might be ice cream, or french fries.
Then you sit and wait for your parents to pick you up. Or you climb into your neighbor’s car for the carpool ride home. You are tired, but it’s a good kind of tired.
When you are small, you do this three times a week. As you get older, you add a day, and then another. You don’t skip swim practice, because your friends are there.
And something else happens. You realize that you can do things. Things that you couldn’t do before. You race against other teams, and sometimes you go faster than you thought you could, and it didn’t even feel that hard. You do a backstroke flip turn without thinking about it, and the official doesn’t raise his hand and disqualify you. You swim a 400 meter freestyle and the world doesn’t end. You survive the 200 meter butterfly without drowning.
You figure out that by going to practice and hanging out with friends, you eventually learn stuff. And that’s pretty cool.
When Heart, Shizuka, Sugar, and Flower joined the local swim club, they just wanted to learn to swim. But eventually, things changed.
They learned to swim, and then joined the swim team. Then they met and became friends. They shared a lane. They shared the shower. And then, slowly, they shared themselves.
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