Saturday, June 15, 2013

thank you again, pete.

this is the third year in a row that i am breaking my rule and blogging about something twice.

today i am blogging about something three times.

today was the pete johnston memorial invitational.

my first blog post about pete johnston 2011 can be found here.

my second post about pete johnston (2012) can be found here.

pete johnston is a memorial invitational swim meet every summer held in the middle of june at park forest pool. it's a memorial meet for swimmer pete johnston, who swam for park forest and died in 1993.

i swam in my first pete johnston a long, long time ago. i swam my first pete johnston in 1995.

i am twenty-two years old. that is eighteen pete johnstons invitationals.

i haven't swam in every single one of them, obviously. the maximum amount i could've done was fifteen, and my parents would sometimes conveniently schedule our vacations during the meet, so i didn't swim every single one of them.

but basically, this was my eighteenth pete johnston.

you know, i feel like i can blog about this a third time because it's always a special day in a numbe of ways. pete johnston is never the same meet twice while ALWAYS being the same meet, if that makes any sense whatsoever.

pete johnston is one of those meets where there are like, ten teams and all the kids camp out in a field behind the pool underneath huge tents and they all sit around together and have fun being kids that really love swimming. when i was little it was a chance to see my winter swimming friends that didn't swim for blackhawk, the team i swam for for thirteen years. we'd hang out and listen to music and play cards and  cheer for each other.

today this realisation hit me; these kids that i grew up with?

we now all coach various teams.

i mean, i coach with the twins. we were swim friends when we were little.

this is my fifth year coaching autumn ridge and sometimes i still can't believe that after all these years, i'm a summer swim coach. for thirteen years i swam for blackhawk and i never even dreamed that i would get to coach a summer team such as that, let alone for five years.

as a swimmer, i've always loved pete johnston. but as a coach, it's always something you have to prepare yourself for.

this morning my alarm went off at five oh four am and my phone screamed PETE JOHNSTON PETE JOHNSTON until i finally told it to shut up and i got in the shower. i spent an hour running around trying to scramble eggs and put on sunscreen at the same time, because at this meet, there is no shade.

last year the meet was ninety-four degrees. and it was reeeeal hot and uncomfortable. this year was supposed to be cooler, but that doesn't mean that the sun goes away.

when you coach pete johnston, you also have to plan where you stand as the sun rises. because last year i was distinctly tanner on the left side than the right for the rest of the summer.

the twins picked me up at six ten and we rolled into starbucks in our matching shirts, telling the unfortunate barista that we coached a kids' swim team and we were headed to a long, slow, but fun swim meet. we arrived at six thirty with our gigantic mocha fraps, we set up the tent, laid out the tarp, and set up camp. i pitched my dad's boy scout chair, set down my cooler, and we waited for our kids to arrive.

we had more kids than last year, which was wonderful. we had enough for relays!

as compared to last year, this year it was cold in the morning. like, real cold. i wore my coaching hoodie and when the kids warmed up, i tried not to get splashed. our pool is heated and park forest is not. i felt bad for our kids that were freezing their little butts off while they were warming up.

but then i didn't feel that bad, because blackhawk didn't have a heater and sometimes practise was absolutely hellacious. in a freezing way.

the swim meet started with parker (our other coach) and i having to buy heat sheets because we didn't have enough in the meet packet. we also didn't have enough lunch cards for coaches to get free meals, but i pack my mom's jumbo cooler every year with blueberries, carrots and chips, so i was all set.

hannah and i picked out our spot next to the arlington coaches, molly and sean, down by the starter and the food pavilion, and we were ready to start the meet.

the meet this year was brought in by beyonce.

normally there's a swimmer that's in like, youth choir or something, that sings the national anthem.

but this year, we had a recording by beyonce.

i don't think i've ever stood outside at a pool in a coaching shirt at seven thirty in the morning and been serenaded by beyonce about the land of the free and the home of the brave.

i knew right then and there it was going to be a good meet.

the morning absolutely flew by. by nine thirty it was warm enough to take off our hoodies, and there was still a beautifully cool breeze. we sat on the wall and reminisced about how incredibly hot and terrible it was last year and how this year was infinitely better because of the weather, and obviously because of beyonce.

the twins and i talked about which kids had grown, which kids had switched teams, which kids had quit swimming, and which kids had improved the most.

in the swimming circle, everyone knows everyone. seriously.

every year i get a year older. generally this means that every year everyone else gets older too. that's how we designated time to work.

but i still can't get over it when i remember kids when they were babies. and now they're fifteen and can swim faster than i did when i was their age.

it's just weird, man.

the three of us sat on the wall with our waters and we talked to the other coaches, and when our swimmers swam, we paced around the pool, we screamed and cheered, and we met them at the wall with hugs and high fives and great jobs, because that's what swimming is about.

swimming is about having fun recreation and doing your absolute best. and today, all of our kids did their absolute best.

this year we had enough swimmers for a crescendo relay, and they blew it out of the water. we had two swimmers take high point for the age group in the entire meet.

and of course, the meet wasn't without its share of strange and funny happenings.

while we were sitting on the wall during a break, sean had a girl on his shoulders. sean's a big dude and can support kids on his shoulders. we were discussing how i was allergic to fur and how i wanted a cat but couldn't have one. (but obviously if i could i'd name it stephen king and it would be evil.)

the little girl on sean's shoulders shouted, "if you're allergic fur shouldn't you stay away from sean's legs?"

toward the end of the meet, one of my eight year olds, maggie, threw herself down on the grass and shouted, "I DON'T WANT TO SWIM MY RELAY!" when she refused to get up, i grabbed her by both arms and picked her up. she positively wrapped herself around me.

..and spent the next ten minutes playing with my sunglasses, poking my nose ring, and telling me that i was dorky looking.

there was a kid at the lake forest swim team tent listening to the harlem shake and dancing by himself. it was awesome. i gave him mad props.

after warm ups, i found parker sitting in my dad's badass camping chair. i was out of coffee already even though it was only seven thirty in the morning, so i didnt' even give him the chance to get up before i squashed him.

parker is the younger brother that the twins and i never had.

every single year, pete johnston is the same meet in essence. it's long. it's tiring. it's fun for the kids, tiring for the parents, exhausting for the coaches. kids run around screaming, coaches run around yelling and cheering, parents sit in chairs five rows deep and fan themselves with expensive heat sheets, and the officials get flustered trying to keep the meet running. it smells like chlorine and hamburgers and it's always hot and sunny.

but every year pete johnston is different. the kids stay the same, but they grow older. the coaches filter in and out. new records are broken, new kids experience their first pete johnston.

no matter how much i bitch about pete johnston, it is one of my favourite meets.

and this year was incredibly special.

today, i met pete johnston's parents.

joey wendt, park forest's coach, came up to me at the beginning of the meet and he said, "hey, emily, pete johnston's parents read your blog from last year and they want to meet you."

i couldn't understand that. so i followed him over to an older couple. the woman shook my hand and said, "hello, i'm pete johnston's mother."

i shook her hand and said, "hi, i'm emily, i coach autumn ridge."

she told me that she wasn't sure what time she had to arrive for the invitational dedicated to her son, so she got online. when she searched her son's name, she found my blog. she said that she and her husband read the entire thing and they laughed at how i talked about what it was like, coaching a huge meet with a lot of kids, and how i felt about it as a former swimmer that loved it growing up.

she said that she cried and that she was happy that her son's memory could make such a great meet for swimmers to gather together and share our love of the sport.

i gave her a hug. and we cried.

pete johnston died twenty years ago. i have been to eighteen of his memorial invitationals.

and this year, i had the honour of meeting his parents.

they are incredible and strong people. words cannot describe how humbled i was to meet them and to have them tell me that my words had touched them.

their son died when i was two. i had never met him, nor will i ever meet him, at least not in this life. but he has made the world of swimming in fort wayne, indiana a better place, and i could not be prouder to be a part of that.

thank you, pete.

parker, hannah, and emma and i at pete johnston 2013. :)

(this post is dedicated to pete johnston, swimmer and friend, may 10th 1974 to june 17th, 1993. you made the world of swimming a better place.)

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