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When I drove to the Seattle pool for the second day, we loved how Mount Rainier seemed to float in a pillow of clouds on the eastern horizon. At the meet, a friendly official introduced herself and two others from her Toledo club team. They extended a warm invitation to join their team. We also heard about the next Paralympics in Greece, held shortly after the summer Olympics in the same venues.
“I was hooked," Beth said. "I knew it wasn’t going to be my last national meet."
I borrowed a page from Laraine’s book and took on the role of a foil, reflecting and questioning, not encouraging or discouraging. Should we pause and contact a Tiffin swim coach instead of driving an hour each way to swim in Toledo? Were swim coaches like medical specialists in the sense that they tended to be better in big cities compared to small towns? We had no clue. I worried about Beth taking on too much, especially learning new strokes, which seemed like an exercise in futility.
Wouldn’t life be easier (better?) if she settled for a leisurely backstroke?
Waiting for a race, Beth adjusted her ear buds and turned up her music. One 50-meter length with no turn felt less intimidating, but her time did not qualify for finals, again. That afternoon, we saw Seattle in a different way from a boat in the harbor. We treated ourselves to a fancy ice cream dessert with chocolate shavings and extra whipped cream, the first connection of ice cream to swim meets.
The third morning, we tried to sort out a jumble of criteria on the papers posted on the walls of the pool. Unreasonably fast times to make the U.S. National Team. Ludicrous times for World Records—only slightly less ludicrous for American Records. All broken down into strokes, distances, classifications, and genders. For almost every American Record for S3 women, there were blank lines where a name should be, along with a fast, arbitrary time that no one had achieved before.
The last evening of the meet, we watched the finals races. Beth also officially enlisted the help of the Toledo coach to find out what she could do in the water. She told him that one year ahead, at the next national championship, her swim times would be fast enough to qualify as an S3 and make the cut for finals. Not stopping there, she also planned to swim all the strokes.
Beth had the gift of perpetually underestimating challenges.
The World Rankings of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) compared individual swimmers. Beth’s three very slow races in Seattle placed her on the list at 15th, 17th, and 21st in the world, confirming the rarity of S3 swimmers.
I arrived back home in Ohio with a missing push handle on the wheelchair, Maria’s unbroken Snow White mirror, and a 16 year old intent on learning how to swim. Occasionally floating across the pool had been a pleasant pastime before Seattle.
After the national meet, Beth raised the bar to the sky for her first swimming summer.
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