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The Seattle meet officially opened with the beeps and buzzes of back-to-back events. Most swimmers dove off the blocks from a standing or sitting position with no assistance. Those with impaired hands usually started races in the water. One coach reached over the edge to hold a swimmer’s feet to the wall. Another coach held an arm before the buzzer sounded. A man with no arms floated on his back, with his feet touching the wall and a cord in his teeth. The coach at the other end of the taut cord dropped it at the start.
The only people we recognized had been at the Michigan Games: Shawn and his wife, as well as another teenager and her mom. There were a few more wheelchairs in use compared to the night before; a girl minus a prosthetic leg pushed a manual wheelchair with strong arms, instead of using crutches on the wet deck.
We clapped for the first American Record of the meet, a neck and neck race. It quickly became evident that I had misunderstood Shawn from the start. Beth had no innate swimming talent. His invitation had been based on the fact that a tiny percentage of quads around the world could be alone in a pool without drowning. Even more rare: quads who could swim.
Beth had the dubious honor of being the only S3 female from the United States at the meet, a distinction that would reoccur again and again.
The fastest athletes during prelims would return to race in the early evening, if they beat the cut times for the finals races. The humidity of the chlorine air saturated my skin, but Beth couldn’t sweat if she wanted to because of her spinal cord injury. I rushed back and forth to the concession stand for cold drinks.
For Beth’s first race at her first nationals, swimmers on both sides entered the water without a mother’s help and surged ahead at the start.
My daughter merely sought to prevail over the seemingly endless distance of the 50-meter pool—twice. The only one weaving down the lane in the last stretch, she did not make the cut for finals, as expected.
In the women’s locker room, swimmers showered and changed on their own. Beth chose an out of the way spot by the back lockers because she needed my help. Our hotel had no accessible rooms available, so instead of being lifted in and out of a bathtub, she decided to shower at the pool in her wheelchair for the first time. I took off the cushion ahead of time, adjusted the tight water handle, and picked up the soap when it slipped from her lap. I squeezed out the shampoo and her arms trembled slightly as she moved it around in her hair. The wheelchair left drips of water on the concrete on the way to the rental car. After a quick lunch and a nap at the hotel, it was time to explore.
I had a stack of printed Google map directions that Beth read while I drove to the fisherman’s wharf and the Space Needle. After riding the elevator to see the panoramic vista, we found an unusual store. I bought Maria a small but elaborate Snow White mirror for her upcoming birthday, hoping I could get it home in one piece. My girls would always be Snow White and Cinderella, princesses who believed in happy endings. At five, Maria decreed that we would live together forever in our Tiffin home, in our tiny corner of a big world.
“The trip was truly amazing,” Beth said. “Seattle was beautiful. My mom and I were able to tour the city in the afternoons and evenings after I swam.”
We didn’t know that the Seattle swim meet would be the first and the only one where she would not qualify for finals.
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