The Record Board

Whenever I go to a pool, my eyes are drawn to the record board.

It’s kind of funny, because I haven’t always been a fan of the record board. Helen still holds over 20 age-group records at the pool in Cooperstown — the earliest from when she was 8 years old, and the latest from when she was 13. Then we moved, and she started racking up high school records in Greene.

Margaret in the middle

A couple of years ago, I caught one of the swimmers in my group staring at the record board in Cooperstown.

“Do you know Helen Zaengle?” she asked.

“I do,” I told her. “She’s my daughter, and she’s Laurel’s sister.”

“Wow,” Margaret said. “She has a lot of records. I’m going to break some of them.”

That was the moment my feelings about the record board changed.

Helen was very good at swimming from a young age. She loved winning races — although there was one time when she asked me why she couldn’t get a rainbow ribbon (the ribbon handed out for participation); all her ribbons were blue.

The record board wasn’t posted at the time, and, quite frankly, I think Helen and I were both unaware of all the records. When the record board went up, part of me felt a little embarrassed because I never sensed that Helen was swimming for the glory of the record board or all the accolades. She swam with the truest sense of the amateur — a love of the sport.

But I worked in the pool these last few years with all those records at my back, and I tried not to look at them. Don’t misunderstand — I am very proud of Helen, but not because she rules the record board. I just think she’s wonderful.

Margaret helped me to see that the records are goals for other swimmers, not to induce pride, but to produce hard work.

Michael Phelps said, “Goals should never be easy,” and Margaret took that to heart. She’s 10 years old now and continues to push herself harder than her peers. She still hasn’t made it to the record board, but I have no doubt that she will.

Laurel swimming breaststroke

Last year, Laurel made it to the record board, by breaking a record that had been up there since before Helen was even born. 11-12 100 Breaststroke.

This year Laurel was studying the records to see if there were any she was close to.

“How about that one,” I said, pointing to 13-14 200 Breaststroke. “I think that one is do-able, maybe not this year, but next.”

The name next to the record: Helen Zaengle.

Helen called me right up. “I heard you told Laurel to break my record,” she said.

“Heck, yes, I did,” I replied.

“I think that would be great,” she said.

She holds her records with open hands, bidding other swimmers to take them, and I think that makes me even prouder than all the records combined.

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The Role of Timers

misc 0048 & Under swimmers swarm around the pool deck like ants on a sidewalk. Some are aimless, while others seem to know where they are going.

Clueless. That’s often the word I use to describe 8-and-unders.

Mama can’t hover on the deck. Only those who are supposed to be there can.

Guards — aka Meet Marshalls — protect the entrances. Most coaches and officials wear their credentials on a lanyard.  Swimmers enter through the locker-rooms; their suits and goggles are their credentials. The other support staff — the timers, the timing table, the meet marshals themselves, the ribbon writers and heat winner awarders — are either known to the people running the meet or wear a lanyard identifying their role.

Of these, my heart always goes out to the timers.

Timing is the first role most parents get to play to help at a meet.

“What if I do it wrong?” new parents ask.

“We’ll train you,” is the usual response.

Start – Stop – Reset. Those are the only three buttons that really matter on the stopwatch for the timers.

Start the watch — not at the sound of horn but when you see the strobe. It’s important for parent/timers to understand this for two reasons — 1) since light travels faster than sound, it may be slightly more accurate, and 2) the strobe is why no flash photography is allowed at the start of a race. Swimmers who learn to watch for the strobe may react to a flash from a camera and be charged with a false start.

Stop when you see the hand touch the pad. That means you have to stand where you can see that happen which isn’t behind the blocks.

Reset. Write the times on the clipboard as fast as you can and reset; the next race starts almost immediately.

One of the officials I work with loves to tell the story of how he decided to become an official. “I couldn’t write fast enough,” he says, laughing. “After I got yelled at one too many times, I said, ‘Hang this — I’m going to become an official!'”

Timers are the unsung heroes of swim meets. They are moms and dads who come out of the stands and work the deck. Their feet get wet. They miss their own child’s finish because they have to watch the lane assigned to them. They get yelled at and blamed for all sorts of stuff. They are expected to make sure swimmers are in the right heat and the right lane, get up on the blocks, and have their goggles on. And all of that is mostly the swimmer’s responsibility.

Which brings me to yesterday.

I was standing on the side of the pool as a stroke official. That means I walked along the side watching the strokes to make sure everything was in accordance with the rules of that stroke. No flutter kick during butterfly, stay on the back for backstroke, toes pointed out for breaststroke kick, and so on.

The referee blew the whistle for 8 & Under girls 50 backstroke. Seven girls hopped in the water and grabbed hold of the wall. One lane was empty.

I looked at my program to see who was missing. It was a little girl from a team in our league. I could see her standing behind the timers, wrapped in her towel, shivering, looking clueless. I wished with all my heart that the timers would turn around and see her, but they were talking.

The starter said, “Take your mark.”

Then, “WHHHHHAANK.”

After the horn, the timers parted and saw the little girl. I watched them look at the clipboard and start talking. I shifted my attention to the swimmers in the water.

“What just happened?” her coach asked.

“She was right there behind the blocks,” I told her. The coach bustled over to the meet referee to see if they could get her in another heat, but no dice.

The ruling was that it was the swimmer’s responsibility to get in the water. The timers didn’t prevent that. The swimmer didn’t try to get through.

She was clueless as to what was going on probably because other people are always looking out for her.

Which is part of why I love the sport of swimming.

From an early age, swimmers learn to take responsibility for themselves. They have to pay attention.

It’s small stakes when they don’t. A missed race. A possible missed ribbon.

But the world keeps spinning and another race will come.

Or you can blame the timer and teach kids that they are never responsible for the things that happen.

It’s those blasted volunteers with wet feet who sacrificed something who are at fault.

 

Tired

This is the pool where the meet was held in which Laurel swam:img_1316-1

This is the  bulkhead upon which I stood judging the turns of competitive swimmers who swam in the pool where the meet was held in which Laurel swam:img_1318

This the coffee that lacked flavor and oomph that I drank before I went to the pool and stood on the bulkhead judging the turns of competitive swimmers who swam in the pool where the meet was held in which Laurel swam:img_1315

This is the bed where I didn’t get much sleep so I needed the coffee that lacked flavor and oomph that I drank before I went to the pool and stood on the bulkhead judging the turns of competitive swimmers who swam in the pool where the meet was held in which Laurel swam:img_1313

I’m home, tired, and going to bed early.

Good night.