Now by Emma Willemsen                            

I gulped. I lay on my side in bed, staring at the alarm clock. The two dots between hours and minutes are flashing in an as-a-matter-of-fact way. It was an electronic alarm clock but strangely I could almost hear the “tick, tock, tick, tock…”sound. I waited and waited, for my Mom to come downstairs to wake me up. The seconds turned into minutes. I was not sure after how long, and suddenly I heard footsteps coming from upstairs. Uh oh. Time to go. My heart started  drumming uncontrollably.  The light in my room was turned on and I squinted my eyes to the bright light, and my Mom’s cheerful voice came immediately afterwards, “rise and shine Emma! Did you sleep well? Get dressed quickly, or you’ll be late!” The door was closed again. I got up and dressed clumsily like a zombie and went downstairs. “Eat some crackers for energy. Or a banana. Your choice.” My Mom presented the food in front of me. I didn’t want to eat anything and even felt nauseous but I was relieved that I didn’t have to have a “full-scale” breakfast with toast, egg, milk, yoghurt, and fruits…“But I …” I was trying to think of an excuse. My mom stopped me in the middle of the sentence, “ No but. Eat.” I forced two pieces of crackers down the throat with the help of one sip of Pocari Sweat. “What’s wrong, Emma? You look pale in the face! Are you nervous?” Mom looked concerned. I nodded and couldn’t help feeling ashamed. “Oh…” Mom sounded sympathetically, came over and tried to hug me… “Hurry up, let’s save the hugs for later! We have to leave now or we’ll be late!” Dad rushed us into the car. It was 6:30 in the morning and pitch dark outside. The dogs of our neighbor probably heard us and started barking loudly and excitedly inside of  the house. I shook my head, feeling sorry. Mom and Dad were trying to calm me down by asking me various irrelevant questions while we were driving. I didn’t feel like talking at all. I lay down and curled up on the backseat, pretending to be asleep. We drove the rest of the way in silence. 

The minute I stepped into the gym at school, I was overwhelmed by the noise and hassle around me. The teachers were running around, with programs in hands. Moms and Dads were spreading picnic blankets and taking out fold-up chairs to settle down. Children were busy changing and stretching…Everybody seemed to be able to enjoy themselves except for me. “Get grip of yourself!” I started feeling annoyed and tried to snap myself out of it, “it’s not a big deal!” “No, it didn’t seem to work!” my pounding heart sneered. 

“Event 17, 100 meter Breaststroke, all heats, come to the marshaling area please!” IT WAS ME! I jumped up and made my way through the gym, with my teeth chattering non-stop. Mom and Dad accompanied me there, showering me with encouraging words which I totally screened off. I was in the second last heat and Lane 6, which meant I was the slowest in the second fastest heat. It was an awkward position—fast but not that fast. 

Sitting on the cold bench with other swimmers of my heat and moving closer and closer to the diving blocks, I was struck numb with terror. The splash in the pool, the deafening cheers and shrill whistles made by the coaches by the pool were extremely overwhelming. “How old are you?” the girl who was going to swim in Lane 5 asked me unexpectedly. “Emm…10…No, I’m not 10 yet. I’m 9, but I will be 10 in February…” I blurted out. Lane 5 girl looked at me with puzzled eyes for a second and looked away. I thought it was rude that she didn’t tell me how old she was in return but I didn’t bother asking.

Before I even noticed it, I was already standing behind the diving block of Lane 6. I was alone with my thumping heart that was trying so desperately  to jump out of my rip case. Dong-dong,-dong-dong,-dong-dong. My mind ran wild! “What if I messed it all up? What if I didn’t beat my personal best?” Those questions kept popping up. “Swimmers, take your marks!” I stepped onto the block. Oh, it’s cold! A chill went down my spine! “Beep!” I dove into the water. Now the world went quiet. Embraced by the refreshing coolness, every cell of my body woke up and shouted simultaneously “yes!” My troubled mind was released from the cage of ceaseless self-doubt and rested idly   while my body seemed to know instinctively how to function. After second turn, my eyes were fixed at the finish line. I couldn’t see where the other girls were and I didn’t care. I gained speed by treading water faster and faster. The diving block was getting bigger and bigger. “Bang!” both of my hands smacked the time-keeping board at the end of the lane. I looked aside immediately. The swimmers in the other five lanes just arrived one after another. “Am I the first?!” I couldn’t believe it. I looked up anxiously at the scoreboard to confirm. Yes, I was! 1:40! 

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” said Marie Curie. I think through swimming, I’m learning it.