Despite oppressive conditions, swim meet is impressive

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Posted 3/21/17 (Tue)

Passing Dreams
By Steve Andrist

Imagine 631 student athletes aged 8 to 18 hanging out together at one big, indoor sporting competition.
Now add about 1,500 parents, grandparents, siblings and family friends.
Put them all into one aquatics center with hard-surfaced walls and floors and heat and humidity rising from a series of four swimming pools.
Take it from one of the grandparents -- the noise is deafening, the constant motion is exhausting, the aluminum bleachers, if you can find a square foot of open space, are butt-busting, and the humid conditions become oppressive.
But the best description of the North Dakota Short Course Swimming Championships is impressive.
For one thing, they’ve got 631 excitable, active, nervous, bored, enthusiastic young people under perfect control.
For another, they keep hundreds of heats in dozens of events running like clockwork with nary a delay from one to the next to the next.
Granddaughter Nora Andrist qualified for seven events in the 8 and under category of this state swim meet in this, her first year of competition with the Northern Lights Swim Club in Fargo.
She finished the state meet with three second-place awards, one third and two fourths, all in her first year of competitive swimming.
Not bad for someone from a family whose only previous aquatic accomplishment was a disgusting belly flop at the Crosby Swimming Pool.
Oh, and that time her papa almost touched the watermelon they threw into the pool at the end-of-season party each year.
One of Nora’s second-place finishes came in the 25-yard backstroke, not one of her favorite events, but one of her best.
One of the other grandpas whose back side, like mine, needed some respite from the unforgiving bleachers opined that the backstroke is the easiest because you can rest.
I begged to differ, telling him that I have no problem resting on any of the strokes.
But the swimmers sure do.
They hit the water, immediately begin moving their arms as fast as they can, and don’t stop until they’ve finished their 25-, 50-, 100-, or 200-yard course.
And in every case they finish that course faster than a grandpa can get back from the concession stand with a bag of popcorn.
Still, there’s a lot of sitting around at these meets, which is logical when you consider that there are 145 different events with a grand total of 3,800 entries over three days.
For example, if your granddaughter competes in the 100-yard IM (that’s 25 yards each doing the breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly and freestyle) it’ll be at least an hour, maybe two, before her next race starts.
How do you keep an 8-year-old occupied, much less focused, for an hour or two?
They cheer on teammates, maybe play in one of the pools not being used for races, or bug Mom and Dad for a snack from the concession stand.
But when it’s time to make their way through 600 other swimmers toward the starting platform, they’re always on time. That’s just the way it is, no matter how nervous their parents get when they think the kids are lollygagging.
The efficiency of the meet managers is also pretty impressive.
There could be as many as eight heats in some events, and typically there is no more than 15 or 20 seconds between the end of one heat and the beginning of the next.
The swimmers don’t even get out of the pool until those in the next heat dive over the top of them to start their race.
So someone with 60-year-old eyes has to have them trained on the electronic scoreboard to check the swimmers’ times before information for the next heat takes their place.
Which is, by all means, the grandparents’ role, because heaven knows they aren’t going to be swimming full speed for a full two minutes at a time.