My heart sinks a little bit at Emily’s request. I know just how much work all of it involves. But I know too that she misses the swim team activities that we engage in when we live in Richmond. There we’re an east end team newly welcomed into the immense James River Aquatic Club that also includes big money clubs such as the Country Club of Virginia. The league is one of the largest in Richmond. We are Anirav. Varina spelled backwards. We are small. We barely win any meets but we are in the big leagues. (Still going strong Anirav won the JRAC Sportmanship Award for their division in 2014).
I know nothing about swim teams. As a teen, I once consider joining the newly formed team at my neighborhood pool, Swimland, in Whitehall, Ohio. But when I find out the practices are early mornings before the pool opens and how absolutely cold the water is, I quit before I start.
At Anirav five year old Emily is in swimming lessons with a friend whose brother is on the team. Missy is a powerful swimmer but she does not yet swim the length of the pool without stopping. Neither Emily nor I realize the significance of the feat but when she accomplishes this in her test to pass the class, she immediately gets drafted by Missy’s mom to swim on a relay team.
It sounds like fun. We agree. It’s an away meet at Sandston. Emily does her part but she is very slow. Still she completes an otherwise incomplete relay team. They win points and ribbons. And we’re hooked.
As the years progress I find myself team mom, creating a team name, gathering monies for t-shirts and accessories, and attending JRAC meetings as our pool representative. The league is divided by size of teams and so we are put together with our own kind. At the end of the season every member team joins in the championship competition. It’s days of heats and heats of swimming, camping out under any available shade to await your turn after hours upon hours of waiting. But you dare not leave, your parking place will be eaten up.
Win your heat and you advance. The best Emily does is come in 9th over all in butterfly her last year before we move. Not bad for a summer league only swimmer. Many of the summer league kids also swim in the winter and keep their skills at top notch level. That’s 9th out of hundreds the girls in her age bracket. Just a bit higher and she would have gotten a place ribbon.
Then we move to the Outer Banks in the mid-eighties and settle into our new life. We have a great community pool but it lacks youth activities. And is so casually run! Our Inlet Court neighbor, Tom Piddington and I both volunteer for the board of directors at the same time with the same purpose in mind. To make the pool a safer place. He has come from northern Virginia and a strong community swimming pool lifestyle. We don’t know each other at all. His kids are all grown. But we hit it off. We become the official pool committee. We write guidelines. The board publishes them and every member gets mailed a copy. This takes an entire winter of our lives.
As summer rolls around I take charge of hiring a staff. I get my WSI certification and schedule swimming lessons. And we begin Emily’s swim team. The first year I watch. The next year I decide to coach. I have seen enough. I know how this works. Scott Zincone has come on board as a lifeguard for the pool and jumps in to co-coach.
Rick Gray from Duck Woods Country Club has also heard the calling, this time over beer and conversation. He’s in it too for his kids. Both pools have actually had teams in the past but neither in recent history. Being a willing rookie Rick follows my lead. We pattern our match ups using the JRAC footprint. We plan meets. Surprisingly to me Colington proves to be the power to beat. Emily & Donald are used to the low on the totem Anirav team. So much that when a meet that the Argonauts can win is scheduled during our OBX vacation time, we voluntarily travel back to Richmond to help out and back to the OBX to finish our ‘hope this never ends’ vacation.
Duck Woods is our only competition. Okay to be accurate back up just a step. Nautics Hall in Manteo does join our adventure one year but after we organize the first (and only) Outer Banks Swim League Championship and they end up in third place Manteo fades from view.
And so for years we compete weekly against Kitty Hawk neighbor Duck Woods. Our team is huge. We have a big pool to draw from. We get more points in the age for age, stroke for stroke match ups. But the real victory of the meets comes down to which team can take the blue for the all age mixed free style relay. We win most of the time but when DW does win those bragging rights they are elated. I can relate. Small team roots run deep.
Emily insists that we have team suits. Parents are willing to pony up for this matching uniform. I collect size information, monies and order suits. We pick a team name. I create a design. We get Hawk Power t-shirts made. We bake snacks to raise money for ribbons and team accessories. Through the marching years to stretch our dollar, I screen print swim caps. Hats. We get towels embroidered. And gear bags. And backpacks. And always more t-shirts. We are a team. We are the Mighty Seahawks!