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We loved the familiar Minneapolis pool complex, a short walk/wheel across the hotel parking lot in brisk April weather. We arrived early on the first competition day for Beth’s first U.S. Paralympic Trials meet. Through warm-ups in a packed pool, driving beats of loud music accented the nervous tension.
Beth, wired and ready for her first race, entered the pool from a side corner and dunked under the plastic dividers to get to her lane. Peggy lay flat on her stomach next to the starting block with her shoulders and her head over the pool, reaching down to grab slippery, wet legs.
Wearing a Toledo swim cap, Beth floated parallel to the lane lines, her feet touching the wall. Patient practice had resulted in her ability to be still for many long seconds before the official start of the race. the timing crucial. Peggy could only release her ankles—no pushing or helping. About 5’8” tall, Beth erased about a second off each lap of the backstroke, freestyle, and breaststroke with the assisted foot start.
I held my breath as Beth reset her previous American Records in the backstroke for the 100 and 200 free. A great swim! Unfortunately, new records were not sure tickets onto the Paralympics team for an S3 swimmer. The 50 free long course, the hardest S3 record to beat, remained far out of reach as her forward freestyle improved incrementally.
Team USA would be in Greece for almost all of September. Peggy requested a meeting to find out if the Athens Paralympics might be possible for Beth. We learned she could be in Greece for the first part of September and return to the U.S. as college classes started. Though missing freshman orientation at Harvard would be necessary. If she made the team.
The only S3 female at the meet, again, Beth collected 5 national medals.
Our flights east would leave before the team announcement ceremony Sunday morning. After finals on Saturday, the manager called Beth to invite us to her hotel room. I hurried to keep up as she wheeled down a long hall and knocked on a door hesitantly. The smile that greeted us confirmed good news. Beth earned a spot on the team! She could compete in 3 races in Greece, her first trip overseas, before leaving mid-September to start classes at Harvard.
Back in the hallway, Beth called her swim coaches while I shared the news with John. Peggy suggested ice cream to celebrate. She officially initiated the longstanding tradition we observed in cities near and far after every swim meet. Over swirls of chocolate, Beth’s enthusiasm flowed with the promise of adventure as an official Paralympian.
Next: Flight to Boston!
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