It is a Wednesday night swim meet and we are swimming against Terre Haute South. Ignore that I will be a student at south next year, because I don’t know that yet. At this point, I have been prepping my whole life to go to North and am a Freshman from Woodrow Wilson Jr. High who competes with the Terre Haute North Swimming and Diving Team.
It is also the night before Fall Break, so the meet has an extra festive feel to it. Lots of friends, family, students and teachers have shown up to cheer on the home team. Before a swim meet, swimmers and divers have to do warm up laps. In order to fit both teams in, the home team shares two lanes with the divers. This can be tricky, so swimmers are not allowed to do flipturns. This slows things down and there are no diver-swimmer collisions.
I am behind Laura Green, another Wilson Freshman, in the lane we are sharing with the divers. Laura swims butterfly and breaststroke and has been swimming for ages, she is a very powerful swimmer. I am about three or five yards out and it is time to stop swimming, tread to the wall, avoid the divers, avoid the other swimmers. Suddenly I am reeling from shock. With my broken goggles in my hand, I swim to the wall. Laura is next to me, rubbing her shoulder from where it hit my goggles (and face) when she came out of the full-powered flipturn going into backstroke. An upperclassman and diver comes up to me and says, “Leah are you okay? Is your eye always… black?” “No, why?” “I think you should go to the locker room.” I am helped out of the pool and to a mirror. The mirror might have been in the locker room, but it might have been the shiny surface of the water fountain.
I saw what the diver had seen and Laura’s shoulder (in conjunction with my goggles) had done. Under my eye was a huge black mark, my first shiner, and across my cheek was a long scratch from the broken goggles snapping across my face and around to the back of my head. I’m sure a trainer put an ice pack on it and I know I got instructions to use bacitracin to keep the scar from getting too bad.
Truth be told, I was bummed that we didn’t have school until Monday. By then the black eye would be gone and the scratch would have disappeared and who would know about my swimming injury? How I took one for the team? Okay, an accident during warm-ups isn’t taking one for the team, but it felt like it.
I don’t remember if we went on to win or lose, but we did go to Maurizio’s Pizza with our swim team handkerchiefs tied around our still wet hair. I did nothing to hide the proof that I was on the team–a black eye and a long red mark. The scratch has finally (10 years later) disappeared, but for years if I was exercising it would glow a little. A reminder of my season in the pool at North.