By ANDREA NEALON
At 5:10 a.m. it’s still dark outside. After the grating sound of the alarm clock forces me out of bed and into my UMW sweats that smell faintly of Gain and chlorine, I grab a bottle of Gatorade and head out the door. I am on my way to swim practice.
I cross the street bundled in a thick UMW Swimming sweatshirt that I washed maybe three days ago, a warm jacket and my favorite Nike Shox. I keep my head down against the piercing cold. Finally, I arrive at the back entrance and open the heavy sliding doors onto the pool deck of Goolrick Hall.
At 5:20 I feel like I just walked into a sauna. Under all my layers I’m sweltering in the poorly ventilated natatorium. The water looks glassy and undisturbed – but not for too much longer.
Coach is sitting in his chair, looking over the attendance sheet and waiting with a few gruff words for the stragglers who will come in about eleven minutes later.
“Five and a half bells means five and a half bells,” says Coach. “Five thirty one is late.”
His face unshaven and his first cup of coffee almost empty, he is otherwise quick to tell you ‘good morning’ with a kind smile if you’re on time.
At 5:25 people start filing into the old and musty dungeon known as the weight room. Most stagger in, a little disheveled, with their sheets of paper and Gatorade bottles. Not that we really need to refer to the sheets – we’ve been in this routine since September, when the official NCAA swim season commences.
The banging and clanking of dumbbells, and a couple muttered oaths, bring the morning to life and most of the swimmers out of sleep-deprived trances.
“Hey girlfriend,” exclaims Rachael, a bright, chipper morning person who’s always smiling and whose hair is always perfect.
I navigate through the maze of dumbbells, people, and benches.
“Hey baby girl,” says Nina Michelle with a cheery smile.
And then there’s Kennard, who is wandering aimlessly around with his cup of applesauce.
“Yo, do you think practice will be recovery today?” he asks.
“Recovery” usually means we swim up to 2,000 yards in the pool, as opposed to a regular practice where we swim between 5,000 and 8,000 yards. This happens after a string of really intense workouts, if we’re lucky.
“Coach doesn’t know what recovery means,” someone shouts.
“Probably not,” I answer.
I finish my last set of dips – unassisted – and then head upstairs to the locker room.
When 6:10 rolls around, the guys are on their way up to the locker room to throw their dirty clothes in the lockers. Those clothes will stay there until the next practice and be recycled for a week or so, until the girls complain enough about the smell.
Locker doors slam and we’re chatting about who may have skipped out on what exercises as we change into our two practice suits. Sometimes people ask why we wear two bathing suits.
There are a number of theories, the most popular one being that it creates drag which makes us work harder. Anyway, we mostly just do it out of habit.
We take our time moseying back down to the pool, but Coach is already engraving the workout to the ancient chalk board.
F A R T L E K.
Fartlek is a Swedish term for speed play. For us, that means we swim for 20 minutes, kick with a board for 15 minutes, and pull with a buoy between our legs for 10. Each time Coach blows the whistle, we speed up.
Groans escape, but they are soon drowned out by T-Pain’s latest from the “Eagles Play list” bumping from an iPod hooked up to the stereo.
Coach turns on the digital clock.
“You’ve got one minute,” he says. “Everyone needs to be in at the next top.” The top and the bottom refer to the 60 and the 30 on a non-digital clock.
“It’s gonna be so cold,” someone says.
It’s hard to explain, but when you’ve been a swimmer for so long you know what cold water smells like.
One by one we hop in and our bodies jolt at the shock of the water. The pool is soon rising and falling with ocean-like waves created by 48 people in 6 tiny lanes.
Sometimes I wonder how we survive for almost seven months – the longest season of any sport at Mary Washington. But when I remember all of the team barbecues, scavenger hunts, Frisbee games, road trips, big competitions and irreplaceable friendships, it doesn’t seem all that tough.
As the soft blues and deep reds of the sunlight peak from beneath the trees, they illuminate the outside world framed by grand bay windows. We know that the end of the workout, and a filling team breakfast at Seaco, are in our near future.
“Good job today Eagles,” says Coach. “See you back this afternoon at three and a half bells.”