Saturday was a milestone for the Rome Challenge, it was Jia’s first ever masters swimming competition. She had never competed an any sports growing up in China, and had only ever done a few 5k fun runs and a handful of sea swims since coming to Ireland (because everyone should swim around Fenit lighthouse at least once in their lives). So, everything was a completely new experience. This is very early in our two-year plan, but we have been working on the basics needed. These include anaerobic sessions (we’ve had two so far), dives and turns. We will be doing a lot more as time goes on and there are big improvements to be made. However, Saturday was not about getting everything perfect, it was about getting experience.
From the beginning of the challenge I told Jia we would try to have her compete as much as possible. In my opinion actual race experience is invaluable, for swimmers such as my self it helps me knock off the rust and lets me try new things (i.e. pacing or an event I wouldn’t normally do) and for swimmers such as Jia it helps her learn her craft. The hope for all of us is that we make our mistakes in regional galas, learn from them and don’t make the same mistakes in the big ones. It’s also tougher to get things right when under pressure or when your body is flooded with adrenalin. Jia now knows what it feels like to race and what it’s like to try and focus on things like technique, starts and turns when racing. To have waited until “everything is perfect” would have been counterproductive as it would build up race day to be something bigger than it is and would end up increasing anxiety. By racing so early we have taken the mystery and intimidation out of it. Afterwards I told her that all Irish galas are pretty much the same and while the international masters ones might have a little more pomp, they are much the same too, they just make you sit in rows of chairs before your race and check your bum to see that your suit is legal.
Saturday also laid down a marker. We now have times for her 100m & 50m freestyle, her 50m backstroke and 50m breaststroke. I’m not going to give them here because I don’t want to risk being divorced, but I will say that the 50m freestyle time was roughly what I guessed it would be from her anaerobic sessions taking a start from the block into consideration. Despite only having done two anaerobic sessions so far, they paid off dividends, Jia knew going into the competition that she was capable of sprinting flat out for a full 50m. This was an important psychological step for someone that sprinted for the first time in her life in September and ran out of steam in that first sprint after 15-20m. This helped in the competition because sprinting for just one 50m and then having an hour’s rest is obviously going to be a lot easier than doing a bunch of 50m sprints in 20 minutes. It meant she knew she could go all out and hold it for a full 50m, which she did despite her goggles filling up with water on the dive.
I am saving the best news until last, her effort in the 50m breaststroke earned her a silver medal. Her first ever medal for swimming and therefore her first ever medal for competing in a sport. It topped off an enjoyable day of racing and socialising. It is a great testament to masters swimming in Ireland that someone so new to the sport can join up and be accepted into the community so easily. Everybody is willing to have a short chat and we all encourage and support each other. Even better Jia is determined to continue working had and to take part in more competitions. She even wants to have a crack at the 100m IM and 100m breaststroke, which admittedly she is capable of doing in the morning if there was a gala. I think she has definitely been bitten by the swimming bug.