Backstroking your way past fear


Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate, 

I watched you from a few feet away. I could see the sob working it’s way up within you, the quiver of your lip, and then – the sudden tears and frantic rush to wipe them away with the back of your hand. You covered your face, Max, but I watched you cry for a few seconds there at the end of the pool as your first race approached. Volunteers and coaches patted you on the back, stooped low to talk to you. 

I rushed to your side and hugged you.

“You’re going to do great buddy!” I said. “Its just like practice. Jump in and swim to the other side.” 

I nodded to your coach and he rushed you to your starting spot.

“Take your marks!” said the head official through the microphone. 

And then the shrill buzzer to start the race. It echoed through the humid indoor pool. 

You stood for a few seconds and watched the other boys lunge for the water. 

“Go Max! Go!” everyone shouted. Finally you launched high into the air, spun around backyards, cannon-balled, emerged from below the water and started furiously swimming backstroke. It was a 25 freestyle race.

swimming backstroke trying to catch up

swimming backstroke trying to catch up

You were about a quarter length behind the other boys because of the late start – and swimming the wrong stroke. Parents pointed and laughed at how cute it was. Kids giggled. Your sisters screamed for you.

But you caught up. Then you passed the other boys who were swimming faster freestyle.

You won the race.

When you climbed out of the pool an adult handed you a heat winners ribbon. And immediately those tears of uncertainty and fear seemed like they had never happened. Later that day you also won the 25 yard backstroke race and got another heat winners ribbon. 


You went to bed last night talking about swim practice. You slept with your ribbons beside you and brought them to the breakfast table with you this morning.

Kate, you swam great too. Without an once of fear. In fact, Mommy and I both talked about how we can see that you’re going to our most competitive child. You were all business before your races and high-fives afterwards. You finished 2nd in both freestyle and backstroke and also swam on the freestyle relay. I think Max’s ribbons sunk in with you. You asked about them – why you hadn’t gotten any – then went silent, but I could see it in your tiny face that looks just like mine. You were internalizing it and making plans for your own ribbons. 


Izzy, as always, you were a pro and a great example for your brother and sister swimming in their first meet. You’re handling the move from the 9-10 year old age group up to the 11-12 year old age group with grace and dignity. Because you were a southeastern qualifier in the winter you’re also being placed in the fastest heat at each competition, so it’s been a learning experience competing against older and faster girls to this point. But true to form, you haven’t sulked, or even noticed, not being at the front of your races. Time off this spring for soccer, combined with moving up in competition means it’ll take awhile to get back to winning and you seem okay with that. That said, you finished in the top 3 of every race yesterday and your relay won both the free relay and medley relay. 


A few weeks ago, Max, you said during dinner that we’re a “swim family”. That makes Mommy and I both very happy that so far you’ve all chosen to swim.

Thinking back on your tears, Max, I’m reminded that life, work, parenting, so many things are about facing your fears most days, but eventually taking the plunge because it needs to happen, twisting in mid air to show your flare, a cannon-ball splash to let them know you took the leap, maybe swimming the wrong stroke because it’s what works for you, and finishing with a heat winners ribbon. 

I’m so proud of all 3 of you.

I love you

– Daddy


Thurs: swam 500, ran 4, biked 17

Fri: Ran 5

Sat: Biked 20 / Ran 2 BRICK

Sun: rest

Mon: rest

Tues: rest

Wed: swam 500