It's off the starting block and into the swim of life

CONSIDER This. . .

July 29, 1996|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

"Go, Shan, awww-right, Shan!" Grown-ups coax the tiny figure poised like a water bug on the starting block of Lane 4.

It's a hot, muggy Saturday in July. The Bolton Hill pool is long turquoise ribbons with rickracks of flags. Children in blue swim suits and children in red swim suits mill around their lawn chair encampments as they wait for their races.

Event 9A, Heat 1. The starting gun goes off -- so do the swimmers on the starting blocks. Five-year-old Shan White, however, takes another careful look at the 25 meters ahead before she jumps in. It is her first swim meet. Slowly, deliberately, she makes her way. She bobs and weaves, stops to rest on the lane marker, pokes at her cloudy goggles, then continues -- well behind the rest of the 6-and-unders.

"Come on Shan, you're doing great," her cheerleaders urge, the tone of concern rising whenever this new competitor shows signs of finding something better to do than swim toward the end of the pool.

The little ones can make you reconsider the wisdom of this activity. What's so great about reaching the end? About breathing hard and making your arms ache? What's so wonderful about swimming as fast as you can toward some crouching, cheering clump of legs, sunglasses and visors?

The 7's and 8's already have answers. Some of them chop at the water as if it were a bad guy. Others glide through it. There's the kid who wins a ribbon on his very last breath and the one who wins as if it were simply a matter of getting permission.

As they climb out of the pool, a few little swimmers burst into tears. Others can't stop smiling. Many look slightly disoriented, as if they needed directions for the quickest way back to normal.

Shan is reaching the end of her first race. By now, all the grown-ups from the other team are cheering for her, too. There's a warm thicket of arms to pull her out -- runny nose and all -- to hug her, wrap her in a towel and sing her praises. Great job, Shan, great job. Way to go! That was wonderful, honey.

She wears the dazed look of someone who just woke up. This effort stuff is complicated, but the girl's on the right track. Shan has made it all the way to the end, all the way to the beginning of doing your best.

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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