Next to the Singer challenge, the Chinese students were the talk of the season on the pool decks, the division website, and the local papers. They came from the same province, champion swimmers who had graduated high school last year and were now having the “American experience” before going on to college. The four exchange students who had come to Two Rivers didn’t swim, so we didn’t have that advantage.
“Who needs them?” Erica asked.
“A couple of them could pose some trouble for Tati,” Mel said. “One on the Boxers’ team comes close to her best 500 time.”
“You’re so fixated on Tati’s breaking the record,” I said. “Not a day goes by without you bringing it up.”
“Well, yeah,” Mel said, giving me an incredulous look. “That record’s been solid for more than twenty years. Tati’s the only one who’s come close in at least ten. Lots of people want to see it fall, including Allison Singer. That’s why she started the challenge - to motivate people. I’d hate it if a Chinese exchange student broke it.”
“So?” Erica asked. “They can’t win the scholarship. Only a Two Rivers student can win that prize.”
“That’s not the point,” Mel said. “It’s not about the money. If anyone other than Tatiana breaks that record, it will embarrass all of us.”
“I don’t get it,” Charlie said, looking puzzled. “You lost me at the Chinese exchange students breaking the record.”
“Okay, here’s how it works,” Mel said, taking a deep breath. The three of us stopped moving and focused on her words. “There are two records. The first is the school record, which Allison Singer owns – 4:52.50 set at the 1989 New York State Championship meet. That time broke the state record, too, but someone broke that in the 90’s, so it’s not hers anymore. Next, we have the division record, which is also Singer’s state record from ‘89. Follow me?”
“Yeah,” said Erica “So, anyone can break the division record, right?”
“But only a Two Rivers student can break the school record and win the scholarship,” Erica said.
“You’ve got it,” Mel said, smiling. “And we don’t want anyone but Tati to get near these records. It’s a matter of Blazers’ Pride.”
“We need to keep Tati pumped up,” Erica said.
I looked at Tati, who sat next to Jordan on the bleachers looking like she didn’t have a care in the world, talking and laughing while her fingers worked Jordan’s bleached blonde hair into a French braid.
“She doesn’t seem to be too concerned,” I said.
“It’s all an act,” Mel said. “Tati knows better than anyone what’s expected of her. She’s been struggling with it for more than a year. Her father pushes her harder than anyone else. If he could pay to put Tati’s name up on that leaderboard, I bet he’d write a check right now.”
“It’s not like they need the scholarship money, either,” Erica said. “Calvin Reese just wants his daughter’s name on that board in all of her events. And he wants her to win the division title in the 500.”
“And she missed it by four and a half seconds last year,” Mel said. “I thought Mr. Reese was going to have a heart attack.”
The talk about winning and titles and records made my head hurt. What happened to the joy of swimming? Of doing your best? Good thing my father was too preoccupied with his new family to worry about my performance in the pool.
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