After Jenny and I’s “talk”…if that’s what it can be called; I was sitting at the kitchen table finally eating my burrito just as Coach came in.
“George,” Coach stopped short in front of me.
I had, of course, just taken a huge bite; so I just nodded in response.
“I need you to come with me; just finish that in the car,” Coach cleared my empty milk cup to the sink, walked out of the kitchen, and out the front door.
I scrambled to hold my burrito and phone in my hand, as I rushed after Coach. ‘I wish he would have just said the something now.’
This time I was able to climb into the truck. Just as I was clicking my seatbelt, Coach roared down the street. In between bites I mumbled, “Where are we going?”
Coach didn’t respond; he was focusing on the road in front of him.
Instead of repeating myself, I just sat there gobbling down my food.
The truck came to a stop; the same spot as earlier this morning. “What are we doing here, Coach? Not another workout, right?” I glanced at the pool dreading my decision of following him without questioning Coach as we drove.
“No. Of course not. You are done with workouts until you get back to school. No. We are here…because this morning, during your almost drowning; the city team was slowly arriving, and many of the swimmers saw what happened. The lifeguards called me and told me that many of the swimmers were worried about you,” Coach just sat there in his seat looking forward at the pool deck.
Coach looked older. Older than when we first arrived yesterday. “I’m good now. Did you tell them that?”
“Yes, but the lifeguards asked if you could come to the pool and reassure the swimmers. Some of them are questioning their descions to swim after seeing you almost drown,” Coach rubbed his hand along his forhead. “I…feel so responsible…you almost…on my watch…I…” Coach broke.
‘Why do people keep breaking down in front of me. First my Dad, then Jenny, now Coach.’ “Coach. It wasn’t your fault. I wanted to prove myself to you; I was the one who did it. An athlete listens to their coach, but they are the one that does the action.”
“Because you believed my teaching. I gave you the material to follow,” Coach had controlled his gruff sobs; he was just occasionally huffing now. “I…almost died when you stopped moving. I was unable to move; everything just froze around me,” Coach shuddered remembering that moment.
“Coach. Please stop blaming yourself. Yes, it was a bad way to learn, but I now know that breathing in the no breath zone is better than losing limbs. I wouldn’t have known that without this experience. I also know now that I need to work on my air consumption. I now have things to work on,” I was trying to comfort Coach, but I was
also telling the truth. It was. ‘It was the honest truth.’ “Also, Jeremy learned that he still had energy; so, he was able to save me. If he had given it his all, he wouldn’t have been able.”
Coach cut me off, “First time, I am happy a swimmer still had some juice. If he hadn’t had been able to hold you up, I don’t know what would have…”
“Coach. Stop. Let’s move past this,” I wanted to end this never ending chit-chat. ‘What’s up with me having these types of conversations today.’
“Fine. Good,” Coach recomposed himself.
Coach was once again his almost grump self.
“Let’s head in. I don’t know what to expect, but maybe you will have to talk to them. Encourage them to continue,” Coach swung his door open.
I followed Coach’s pursuit, “No problem,” and we started to walk towards the deck.
‘Well this is not what I expected.’ There was an age range from six to maybe sixteen. There was no swim team at the highschool; instead there was a city team, the Rockets. Coach was off talking to the lifeguards and parents. Which means…he left me here. In front of maybe fifty swimmers. “So, I heard that some of you saw what happened
this morning?” I looked up at the faces staring at me. Nobody answered, some even looked away. “If you have a question just ask.”
It was silent, until a young boy, maybe twelve, stood up, “What actually happened?”
I chuckled at the question, but after my reaction the kids looked frightened, I waved off the laugh, “Sorry. It was just a new experience for me,” I cleared the air and waited for all eyes to be back on me. “My coach,” I turned and pointed at Coach’s back, and quickly returned to my audience, “gave me a hard set this morning. He
is notorious for giving you sets that will push you to your breaking point. The best kinds of sets,” I winked at everyone. No response. “Anyways…I followed his instruction completely, and I made a wrong call.” I would only go into more details if someone asked.
One of the older girls raised her hand before speaking, “What wrong call?”
“Good question. You all need to understand this. Your coach gives you the fundementals and building blocks to be great, it is your descion to follow them. I decided to not breathe in the no breath zone, even though my lungs were on fire. I decided. Not my coach,” I wanted them to completely understand what I was saying. ‘It was all me.’ “But it was definately the wrong call, and now I know that. I wouldn’t have known if not for this. That it is better to take a two tenths of a second breath than lose limbs.”
“What do you mean lose limbs? You were flying,” this time a young boy blurted out.
“It might have looked that way, but can any of you older swimmers tell me what limb I lost first?” I wanted the more experienced kids to be in this exchange.
I looked to see who said that, but they did not reveal themselves, “Which one?”
“The left,” the oldest looking guy said at the top of the bleachers.
I looked the guy in the eye. He seemed to be my age. “Correct. Then what?” I said directly to him.
He just looked back at me unfazed, “your left leg. You lost one whole side of your body. You started to slow down maybe five yards from the wall.”
I was impressed that this guy could see all that. It happened within less than five seconds. “Correct. What’s your name?”
“Bradley Mitchells,” he said out, but it seemed begrudingly. “Why?”
“I just want a name for the face when I compete against you in the future.”
“Me…me compete with you. There is no way,” Bradley looked at me baffled. “You are way out of my league.”
“If you had the right coach, you could be swimming against me in the future,” I was being honest. I’ve never seen this guy swim, but his knowledge of five seconds already told me all that I needed to know.
Everyone glanced up at Bradley in astonishment. Clapping erupted from everyone.
“Enough, enough,” Bradley tried to quiet them, but with no success.
“Okay. Any other questions?” I took the spot light off of the embarressed Bradley. If he wants to be a swimmer on my level he is going to need to become more confident.
“What was your set?” Another older girl asked.
“Pheew…I will start by saying it was killer. We did about twenty-four hundered yards warm-up. About one thousand yards heart rate warm-up,” I paused to see surprised but also scared expressions. “If that is scary to you, just wait. Then the main set: Thirty all out fiftys. With a one minute break in between each one,” I again paused.
The faces were not as suprised. They seemed to think that was a normal set. Even Bradley looked calm.
“Maybe you don’t understand. I was averageing about twenty-threes, while my bud was averging twenty-three mids,” again I looked into the faces before me.
Realization must have taken effect, because all the faces gasped. The girls all pointed at me and whispered together. As Bradley, and I assume his buds, glanced at each other in amazement. “You really went that in practice?” The guy next to Bradley asked.
I felt a smile begin to creep over my face, but I hid it quickly. I didn’t want to come off smug, “Yes. It was expected from my coach. He truly can bring the best out of me.”
“I can do what?” Coach’s voice came from directly behind me.
I jumped slightly at the sudden outburst. “Coach,” I stood next to him, “I was just telling them about the set we did, and how you can bring the best out of me.”
“Don’t brag too much about me, you will make my head swell with pride,” Coach stood a little taller.
“Did he really hold twenty-threes in the set he did this morning?” Bradley blurted out.
Coach looked at me before answering,” Yes and no,” all the kids in front of me started to laugh; because they thought I had lied to them. “Twenty-nine of them were averaging twenty-threes; however the last one was a low twenty-four,” Coach seemed unfazed by the laughter.
I think it took a moment for that to register as well. Once it did, everyone quieted down, and once again gazed at me in amazement.
“Wow. I went a twenty-four. Man that’s slow! I haven’t gone that time in a long time,” I turned my attention from the gasps to Coach. “I am definately going to work on my breath control starting Monday.”
“Well…the Rockets. Are you more at ease,” Coach turned his attention back to the still stunned athletes, “after hearing George’s side of the story?”
They all just nodded.
“Good. Because I was actually offered the job of head coach of this team.”
“What!?!” everyone in the stands yelled together.
“Hey. Be happy. You are getting the best Coach in all of California. Bradley, I will definately be seeing you soon,” I pointed at the still stunned Bradley.
“I’m excited to have this opportunity once again. I must say thank you to you, George, without your mess this morning I would have not been offered the job. The parents want me to take their swimmers all the way, or at least get them into your school in Montana.” Coach clapped me on the back.
“I’m looking forward to it, and I am excited that you get to continue coaching,” I draped my arm over Coach’s shoulder. We stood their like a perfect pair; a pair of crazy swimming enthustics. ‘These kids are going to get a wake up call.’
“See you all starting Monday. Enjoy your weekend,” Coach turned the two of us away from the stands.
As we were walking away the whispers started, which reminded me of something, I stopped and quickly walked back to the stands. “I forgot to mention when I was telling you the workout. We also began the morning by waking up at four-thirty and running thirty minutes to this pool. So tack on thirty mintues of death before that crazy
workout.” I saw the look of fear and bewilderment creep on all their faces. I laughed and walked quickly across the deck to catch up with Coach.