Monday, July 20, 2015

Chocolate Milk

by John D Ramsey

This morning arriving at work, I put my phone, wallet, and keys in the plastic tray. I put the tray on the conveyor followed by my lunch bag and my heavier backpack. I stepped through the detector and refilled various pockets. As I walked toward the revolving door I greeted the guard. As I walked passed him, he asked me, “Did you have a nice weekend?”

I paused for a moment, turned back toward him, and replied, “It was one to remember.”

It started innocently enough. A little over five years ago, Lisa realized that the local rec swim team was a bargain compared with swim lessons. Thinking that the coaches’ compensation included the drama of competition, I insisted that my girls swim in at least one meet. A few days later, thinking that some mercy might be appropriate, I suggested that they swim that first Saturday in the intrasquad meet.

Claire and Gabby swam well enough, but what surprised me was their exuberance at the end of the morning. As we drove home, they both pleaded, “Can we come back next week?” So we did for six weeks. At the end of the season, their plea was, “Can we swim in championships?” So we did.

For the next two years the girls swam five to seven times per week and competed for seven weeks each summer. When their third summer season came around, the girls more than doubled their efforts in the water. They followed their hard workout with a box of frozen chocolate milk.

That summer we decided to pursue year round competitive swimming. The girls’ goals and priorities had changed. In the fall, they would join a USA Swimming club. Rec league would never be the same. The championship meet was a type of goodbye.

The meet was held at an outdoor pool. To commemorate the day we froze four cases of chocolate milk and packed it in coolers with dry ice. As the last relays were in the water the girls offered frozen chocolate milk boxes to anyone they passed.

Since that summer the girls have swum USA Swimming short course and long course seasons. They've allowed only brief interruptions in their training. They've travelled hundreds of miles for swim meets. They've had many early mornings and many late nights at the pool. They've accomplished some of their goals and left others unattained. This summer, however, they've found more joy swimming Saturday mornings in the rec meets.

It is time for another transition. We'll be taking some time off from competitive swimming: maybe a few months; maybe a season; maybe longer.

Claire had profound sadness the morning of the rec league championship. She thought of all the teammates she’d known over the years. Many had moved on to other places or on to other interests. The swim team has grown and gelled, but she doesn’t feel a part of it any longer. She realized she could never reassemble the most joyous moments of the past six years, and she wept for it.

I told her that there would be a time to grieve her loss. What can we lose that we have not been given? I told her to turn her grief into gratitude and celebrate the memories.

This year we didn't freeze as much chocolate milk; we didn't pack it with dry ice; and we didn't wait until the meet was over. Sometime after 11:00 AM when the heat and humidity had gripped the event, the girls opened their cooler and shared frozen chocolate milk boxes with both teammates and competitors. Claire distributed her portion to people she knew. Gabby shared hers equally with nearby strangers.

A swim mom caught Claire’s attention and told her, “You are the sweetest people I have ever met.”

It is time for a change, and a time to reflect. In the last five years, what more should my girls have accomplished?