Last month I competed in the World Aquatics World Cup series, racing each weekend in Berlin, Athens and Budapest. It was a great month of racing, of getting back to why I love swimming. Considering how much I love to race, it’s weird that I picked this sport where 99% of the time is spent training and only 1% racing.
In Berlin I lined up to race the 100m Freestyle long course for the first time in over two years. The last time I stood behind the blocks and committed to the two-lap race, was the lead off leg of the 4 x 100m Freestyle relay in the 2021 Olympic final. The last time I raced it, there were three other women relying on me to do a good job, a country watching and expecting success and an empty stadium echoing with my own expectations (no spectators allowed in Tokyo, remember that little thing called COVID-19).
In swimming, your times expire after a year, a brutal reminder that things move on without you. For me this meant that in Berlin I was entered as ‘no time’, meaning I was in heat one, lane one, the slowest lane in the slowest heat. The girl next to me was born in 2011, which is the year I graduated high school. There was no pressure, no one watching and I had no idea what to expect. The circumstances could not have been more different from my last 100m race.
And yet the feeling was remarkably the similar. This is why I love racing so much. It doesn’t matter where you are or why you’re racing, you get those moments in the call room as you prepare. Heart pumping, fingers tingling. You get the chance to execute as best you can all the hours of training. You get to answer that unanswerable question: ‘what am I capable of?’. And then you reset for the next race and ask the question again. It reminded me that it’s not so much success that drives me, but the pursuit of perfection; that elusive dream that recedes before us, and the joy is in the chasing.
So you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I lined up to race. I went 53.86, which I was incredibly happy with. That time then became the bar to clear in my next race; but as I touched the wall, I wasn’t thinking of any of that. I was just enjoying the pursuit of perfection.
And that little girl Fleur in the lane next to me, we had a chat before and after the race. She was racing at her first big meet, it's always a pleasure to be around young swimmers who have the drive and excitement that I'm rediscovering as I return to the pool.