Tryouts ground on for the second week with more skills and drills. The new girls were getting tired, and the moaning and whining from the slackers grew louder and longer. The seasoned swimmers prepared for another three months of lengthier and harder practices, while the wannabes struggled to keep up and hide their tears.
Varsity swimming is a six-year sport, but sometimes the younger girls are a little too young to compete with high schoolers. They complained about everything: practice was too early, the water was too cold, they couldn’t keep up with the sets, and they felt dwarfed by the upperclassman.
It took courage and determination to pull off varsity swimming as a middle-schooler. I knew; I’d done it. Girls not ready to make a total commitment were better to wait another year or so. Most of them figured that out and drifted away. Charlie, the eighth grader with the killer breaststroke, was not one of them.
With one day of tryouts left to go, I ended up in the locker room with her after practice. She stood in front of the mirror combing her long, wet hair.
“How are you doing, Charlie?” I asked as I put on my sneakers.
“I’m good,” she said, glancing back at me in the mirror.
“Are you a club swimmer?”
“Yup,” she said. “I started swimming with the Marlins when I was eight.”
“No wonder you’re so good.”
She shrugged. “You’re pretty good too,” she said, as she tied her hair into a ponytail.
“You’re better than I was when I was your age. Keep it up.”
“I hope I don’t get cut,” she said, a glimmer of worry in her eyes, her bottom lip trembling. “Everyone else in my age group is already gone.”
“You’re not going to get cut. Coach needs you.”
Her sad eyes brightened. “Really?”
“You’re the best breaststroker he has right now.”
“What about Jordan?”
“She’s no competition for you, trust me. You just keep doing what Coach tells you to do, and you’ll beat her all the way to the Division Championships.”
She finished packing her swim bag and we left the locker room together. I walked her out to the parking lot where her mother waited to pick her up. “See you tomorrow, kid.”
She smiled and waved back at me as she got into the car.
“Who was that?” I heard her mother ask as the door closed.
I looked around for Mel. She’d left ahead of me with Erica Duczeminski to go to her car and get the sweatshirt she’d left at Erica’s the night before. They leaned against Erica’s Honda and called me over.
“Getting chummy with the youngster?” Erica asked. She was the biggest girl on the team and a top butterflyer. Everyone called her “Duke,” short for her last name, but also because of her size. She was like a mastiff, tall, big-boned, and full-bodied. I would not want to crash into her in practice. It would be like hitting a wall.
“She’s a cute kid. And fast,” I said, dropping my swim gear onto the asphalt.
“She’s going to give Jordan some tough competition,” Erica said.
“Good,” said Mel. “Jordan thought she would be top breaststroker now that she’s a senior. I’m going to love watching a middle schooler knock her off her throne.”
“Maybe you can adopt Charlie as your Little Sister,” Mel said to me.
“Little Sister?” I asked.
“We have a Big Sister-Little Sister program. The upperclassmen adopt the younger girls and act like their big sisters, showing them the ropes, providing support, all that,” Mel explained. “Once Coach announces the team, we’ll pick our Little Sisters.”
“I’ll take Charlie,” I said.
“You’re new to the team,” Erica said. “Coach might not let you be a Big Sister.”
“Aerin is an experienced swimmer,” Mel said on my behalf. “Coach will be glad to have her help. She might teach all of us a little something.”
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