Parents gathered around the pool, bundled up in coats and sweaters to watch their young children at the first swim practice of the season. It was a cold day at the beginning of March, and there were 15 or so shivering children on one end of the pool awaiting their turns. One by one they were being called upon to swim toward the coach who was assessing their abilities and placing them in one of two groups: ready for the deep end or not.
One six year old girl in particular stood out. “Wow, did you see that?” a woman next to me asked another parent.
“She’s really fast!” he exclaimed. The girl literally glided across the water. Her freestyle strokes and kicks were smooth, powerful and naturally coordinated. It was truly amazing to watch someone so young be so fluid.
I smiled inside. We were watching my daughter Sabrina. It was a private, proud parent moment indeed. Sabrina had never taken a swimming lesson. We had spent many summer months swimming together in the past, but she almost always had been clinging to me or my wife, so we really had no idea how well she swam. We knew she could tread water, and she could dunk her head underwater but that was about it. Last summer she attended all of her older sister’s swim meets, so Sabrina knew what a freestyle stroke was supposed to look like, but I don’t think she had ever actually attempted one.
In the weeks that have followed that first day of practice she has gotten considerably better, and she has distinguished herself as the fastest newcomer in the water. She’s even faster than her six year old boy friend who I like to think of as the neighborhood ‘Natural’. He pretty much dominates every sport he plays: basketball, soccer, baseball and he even skis like well.
Sabrina is a natural athlete in her own rite, although she has held herself out of organized sports until now. The fact that she wanted to join the swim team came as a surprise, but more and more she has been coming out of her shell this year. This year she was diagnosed with Selective Mutism (SM), and until now she has steadfastly refused to participate in group activities. The very idea of participating in group activities for someone with a social phobia like SM must have been terrifying for Sabrina, but she seems to be conquering it or at least learning to deal with the fear. I’m still not certain why she decided to swim, but it might have something to do with the tradition of hot chocolate on Friday evening’s after practice. Also her older sister Skylee was given ribbons for every heat she swam last year and a trophy at the end, which had to be very appealing to Sabrina.
I believe that since Sabrina’s phobia was identified in school things have gotten considerably easier. Once you know why a child doesn’t speak in class, and didn’t her entire year in Kindergarten, you know what you are up against as a teacher. She’s not simply an incorrigible recalcitrant, even if it seems like that at times. Earlier this school year she finally began whispering to her teacher. Last year there was only one friend she would whisper to in class. Now she has several. Additionally she took our pet hamster to class this past week and was able to answer everyone’s questions about the rodent, albeit in whispering tones. That qualifies as a major breakthrough for her.
Sabrina is perhaps the most stubborn person on the planet. Part of that is doubtlessly due to her battle with SM. The fear can lead to paralysis, and just makes her dig in at times. As a stubborn person by nature myself this has presented no small challenges for me, but together we are learning to work through those difficult times. Here’s the thing though, getting back to swimming. Putting her stubbornness together with her athletic ability is creating quite the competitor. “I’m the fastest person in the water.” She has been fond of saying since practices began. She’s very proud of the fact. She doesn’t want to be beaten, and tries very hard not to let it happen.
Last year was Sabrina’s sister Skylee’s first year on the swimming team, and we watched as one of her 8 year old friends absolutely knifed her way from one side of the pool to the next. She was one of the fastest in the County, and without a doubt has a future in competitive swimming. Her times getting across the pool were in the high teens. Pool records for the ‘8 and unders’ are around 14 seconds.
As a six year old Sabrina is nowhere near being able to challenge the records for ‘8 and unders’, but in two years she just might. My own mindset regarding her swimming is kind of ambiguous and ambivalent. I know that in order to get really good she needs to practice with the team 4-5 times per week, basically every day after school. However we’ve had some pretty cold and windy days, when all the kids have come out of the water shivering. That’s the kind of thing that can turn someone off to swimming, which is the last thing we want to do. So this past rainy and cold week Sabrina swam only once. Fortunately the weather is warming up now, and I like to think the girls are getting excited about going back into the pool on a regular basis.
It’s going to be very interesting watching both of my girls develop athletically. I’m not sure that swimming is really going to be my older daughter Skylee’s sport, but she has a lot of fun in pretty much everything she does so I’m not worried. If her younger sister Sabrina turns out to be as good a swimmer as it seems right now I think Skylee will end up being very supportive and accepting. Skylee may even end up being very proud of her sister. I know I’m proud of both of them, and I’m loving being a part of their lives and development.
Andy Falk is a father of two incredible daughters ages born in 2001 & 2003, Skylee
and Sabrina. Andy is very active in the lives of his daughters, from coaching soccer to supporting them during swimming season to just plain doing homework or hanging out. Andy also surfs regularly, bicycle commutes and is a successful Realtor in Marin County, CA. Andy earned his MBA from San Francisco State University with an Internet Marketing concentration, and holds a BA from the University of California at San Diego where he studied and surfed in the 80’s.