On a Saturday, earlier this month, I attended my first swim meet ever–The California Classic–at Crafton College in Yucaipa, California. I picked up swimming a few months after losing my legs because I needed to keep active. I was used to running 6x/week so I needed to do something other than drive my parents crazy.
I first had to be classified according to Paralympic rules the day before the meet. For this, they had to assess me without my prosthetics. In a separate room they took measurements of my limbs and asked me questions regarding my mobility. Then came the pool test where I had to swim halfway down the length of a 50m pool at an easy pace, then swim the rest of the length at my fastest. That was using the freestyle stroke. I then had to swim using the breast stroke and backstroke. After all those measurements and swimming assessments I was given a classification of S8. Here’s a link to a classification guide: http://www.teamusa.org/US-Paralympics/athlete-classifications/swimming/ .
I would only be competing with those within the same classification. In addition to that, I would only competing in a “heat” or a round of swimmers that have the same times as I do. However, because I had no official time I was grouped into the first heat. It was an easy process and very educational for me. The whole meet was educational as there were people with all sorts of disabilities competing. It was very humbling.
The next day at the meet, my first event was the 50m. I had to be there at 8:00 A.M. for warm-up. My heat would be at 9:00. I learned that same day that I was to start the race from either the block or the edge of the pool. Since starting to swim I had never practiced starting a race before! When I practiced I always started in the pool and just pushed off the wall. This would be interesting. Luckily, there was another bilateral above the knee amputee at this event! I had watched Roderick Sewell swimming on YouTube video earlier in the week and learned from him how to swim without the use of a pull buoy. That was an amazing feeling, but way more tiring to swim without it. I asked him to teach me how he starts and he got up on the blocks and explained to me. He’s been swimming since he was 6 and I have the same classification as him. However, I wouldn’t be competing with him because his 100m swim time is 1:13! That’s fast!!
After watching him start I gave it a few tries. My first one was a total belly flop–ouch. I’m supposed to sit on the edge with my limbs slightly over the edge. Using my hands to grip the edge, I’m basically trying to fling myself into the water. I had a few more belly flops until I was close enough. My belly was sore for a few minutes after all that practice.
My event came up. There were only two of us in that heat! The third person, who happened to be from Cameroon, didn’t show up. Maybe he got help up in Immigration? I ended up in the same heat as an 8-year old, I think. That means we weren’t really competing. The good thing about Paralympic sports is that it doesn’t matter your age. And…I just checked my time and there were only two of us in that event and I got 2nd place! =) The other guy already competed in Rio in 2016 and he’s 22-years old. His time was 28.82 seconds! Mine? An impressive 52.7. Haha. At least I placed. =) I would have never had this opportunity if I had legs. The 100m would be later in the day.
At the 100m event at 5:00 PM I was in the same heat as 12-year old Ezra Frech. He’s been into sports since an early age. He’s classified as a S7, though, so we wouldn’t be directly competing. I first met him last year at the inaugural Angel City Games held at UCLA. His dad, Clayton, started the games because there were no events in Southern California for challenged athletes to compete in. I had attended a swim clinic they held so that I could improve my stroke. They just had their 2nd Games earlier in the summer.
The races were in a 50m pool. That’s Olympic size. Also known as the long course. That would mean I’d have to turn around and swim back. I had just started swimming again only three weeks prior. I had to take about four months off from swimming to let my shoulders heal. I had an overuse injury in my rotator cuffs which is common among swimmers. I was seeing a physical therapist 3x/week. The doctor also evaluated my swim stroke from a video and gave me tips on how to avoid future injury. To this day, I have no shoulder issues. Before the shoulder issues I was swimming 2,000 meters a day at least four times a week. I just enjoy swimming. I am completely mobile in the water without the aid of any prosthetic devices.
The race started and I felt I had a good start. My partner had told me to swim as if a shark was chasing me and I think I put more into this race than the first. These events end so quickly! I was so tired from the swim and I made the mistake of attempting to get out of the pool while still seriously fatigued. I normally get out with no problem, but this time I couldn’t catch myself and fell forward. I landed on my chin. I didn’t think it was a problem until I noticed blood dripping. I had split my chin open!
How embarrassing. People were rushing around to find me a first aid kit. Then they asked if I wanted to go to urgent care. They assigned an escort to me since I said I was fine and could drive myself. With the exception of the Paralympic staff, the volunteers at this event were swim athletes of the high school nearby. We drove to the first urgent care clinic which was five minutes away. It was closed. We then had to search on Google for one that was open. The next nearest open clinic was 17 minutes away. I kept insisting that I was fine and didn’t need an escort, but this helpful senior wouldn’t hear of it. He said it was his duty assigned to him and he wanted to make sure I arrived safely.
Once we arrived he escorted me to the door where I thanked him and gave him some advice for his life. We spoke earlier at the other clinic and I asked him what he was going to do after high school to which he replied he wasn’t sure. As someone who had that same answer when I was his age, I have made it a duty of mine to give soon-to-graduate high schoolers the same advice: Figure out what you want to do as soon as possible, it gets harder to move upward career-wise if you don’t figure it out until later in life like I did. It only takes me a minute to say, but I hope it sticks with whoever I tell it to.
At the clinic, I was stitched up fairly quickly. The staff were all surprised when I told them I got this injury at a swim meet. The adrenaline from the swim meet had kept the pain at bay so it was tolerable. I was given a numbing agent before the stitches were put in. The doctor decided on lock-stitch sutures because the bleeding wouldn’t stop. I ended up with 13 stitches. (He did a very good job, btw.) I was telling him my whole story from Guam to now while he was prepping. At the end of it all, I thanked him. He said I am a very interesting young man with an interesting story. I guess I do have an interesting story…