By Lyra Pore
“Focus! Don’t look at the other swimmers! If you don’t focus, I’ll take your iPod from you for one month!” The excitement at the Zone Swimming Carnival is palpable; one mom can’t resist making the iPod threat to motivate her 12-year-old daughter to do her best.
Australia supports and discovers young talent through sports carnivals. Each primary school holds its own carnival first to select students, from Grades 2 to 6, who will then go on to compete at the Zone level. The races are already quite intense at this stage. Kids, as young as seven but turning eight this year, dive into a 50-meter pool the moment the gun goes off and give it everything they’ve got to earn the right to represent their school in the Zone carnival.
At the Zone, students from several schools within the district race against each other. One of my kids, now in Grade 6, is representing her school in the 50-meter freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and relay.
“If I get a place in the Zone, do I get my books?” she asks the previous night. Since she finished reading the Harry Potter series–from Philosopher’s Stone to Deathly Hallows –she’s been pressing her dad and me for a copy of J.K. Rowling’s Quidditch Through The Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I figure it’s better to reward her for a great effort than to punish her a botch-up. “Yes. Absolutely.”
The girl with the iPod races against very fast swimmers in the third heat; it’s unbelievable they’re all just turning 12 this year. My daughter comes first in the second heat. The final results have yet to be checked though, as the girls from all the heats have to be ranked according to the time they’ve clocked. The overall results place the iPod girl at 6th and my daughter at 7th. “That’s all right!” the other girl’s mom yells. “I’m still proud of you, honey!” Thank God, it’s been an empty threat after all.
“Do I still get my books?” “Of course. You’ve come first in your heat, remember?” It’s really a great result for the top ten girls with just milliseconds separating each of them.
It gets even better as the carnival goes on. My child wins third place overall in backstroke and fourth in breaststroke. Then she and the iPod girl team up with two other Grade 6 students to snatch a second-place finish in the freestyle relay. They’re all off to the Regional Swimming Carnival at the Sydney Olympic Park where many more schools representing several districts show off their rising stars.