This week the English National Swimming Championships take place in Ponds Forge, Sheffield. Last year we battled through Sheffield Wednesday supporters to just about see my daughter’s friend get gold. We were both overwhelmed by the experience – the noise, the number of spectators, the commentary, just the whole size of the place. It was different to any gala we’d ever been to.
It’s been her goal for a year to get here, but I’d say it’s the culmination of 4 years. 4 years of training first 4 times, then 5, then 6 a week. Of dashing home from school to check her phone, do her homework, gobble evening meal 1, and go to the pool – to return home to check her phone, down a pint of milk, and gobble up evening meal 2. 4 years of turning down chances to go out with school friends, and probably turning down friendships there too, but 4 years of bonding with other swimmers at the club who just get what drives her. Toughest of all, so far, was jettisoning art GCSE as the other swimmers say ‘it’s never done… you don’t have the time to do the best you can’.
Last night I sat in the car, windows open, outside the house, listening to Springsteen’s Rocky Ground. I’d just been at our first ever community clean up at the lido. Donning rubber gloves, a vicious scourer and a lot of disinfectant I’d taken on the ladies’ changing cubicles whilst others got going with paint brushes. Come 8.30pm we finished our pizzas and took to the water. Heaven. A 60 x 26m lido available for free play – no lanes, no widths or lengths to swim, just lots of jumping in and floating and looking at the clouds above. And lots of thinking about my girl and her trip to Sheffield.
Driving up felt like a real adventure. I’m not sure which of us was more excited – particularly not as we get to stay in a hotel together – or more relieved to have got rid of the car. The boys are joining us on Friday – a 6am train for them with secret bars of chocolate hidden in a washbag to see them through the early start.
People think as my twitter handle is @loveswimming and I rant on about galas I must be a pro – I couldn’t be further from it. I might have an itch about and an obsession with swimming the Channel but I’ve not had a swimming lesson since the age of 13… I’ve not got the grim determination either that she has in bag fulls.
It’s going to be odd come Friday morning. For 4 years I’ve waited til she looked across at me on the level, gave a thumbs up and then got on with being on the blocks, and then more recently as she’s more serious, waited for her to glance over at me with my officials’ kit on, for the discrete ‘good luck’ nod. On Friday I’ll be up in the stands, far away from her, and out of focus. Far from her for the after race damp hug.
Sheffield itself is awash with long limbed teenagers striding around with their mums scuttling to keep up. Like locusts they descend upon hotel buffets (‘3 croissants for now plus 2 for later in case I get hungry’)… Wagamama, Pizza Express. There is some serious carb loading to be done.
I know I’m a bit of a loose part now. I’ve done the chauffeuring, I’ve paid for the hotel, I’ve bought the kit, I’ve stocked the mini bar with as much as I could cram in, and now all I’m needed for is moral support and to pick up the tab for meals. I’ve also popped to Sheffield Waterstones – as you do if you need a nice grounding experience…
It’s dangerous being holed up here with a tupperware of crispy, chewy and buttery flapjack…