EDITOR’S NOTE: As Eastside Y Program Director, Paul Ebert 38, has been on the outside looking in at the Highmark QUAD Games. He certainly knew about the Games and heard plenty of Y members talking about them over the term of his Y career but it wasn’t until this 30th Anniversary year that Paul really got the spirit. Or more accurately, Paul was encouraged to get the spirit when he was designated as the YMCA of Greater Erie’s QUAD Games Captain. Duties for Y QUAD Captain include rallying Y employees to participate and of course, the expectation of doing all four events himself. This represents Paul’s first QUAD Swim and his attempt at all four events. For support he enlisted his two daughters, Ema Elizabeth 6, and Felicity 5. Paul sent me his story shortly after Team Ebert did their first Highmark QUAD Swim.
There I was, poised on the starting blocks, ready to swim in the first event of the 30th Anniversary Highmark Quad Games. As I waited for the sound of the starter’s horn I, of course, had one thought in my mind. It was a thought that I am sure every competitor of my age and athletic ability would have going through their mind at that very moment.
“What’s the event record?” (No)
“I’m going to get this done under a minute.” (No)
“I wish they made this distance a little longer.” (Nope)
“I’m the man.” (Maybe)
In fact none of these were going through my mind at that very moment. What was going through my mind was how in the world did I get myself into this and why are all of these people still here watching?
You see, my best athletic days are behind me. I am now 38 years old and fight through the aches and pains of getting out of bed every day. I still like to work-out on a regular basis; however I still like to eat like I did when I was younger too. I am a single father of 2 wonderful girls and that is where a lot of my time gladly goes. So this event wasn’t going to be as easy as I had hoped.
We got into our swim gear and headed to the pool. When we walked into the humid, chlorine filled air I immediately began to sweat. Oh, not because of the heat (though it was pretty warm in there) but from the fear of swimming in front of all of these people. As I looked around all I could see were young swimmers with their speed suits, swim caps, and goggles warming up in the pool. There I stood, a little girl on each arm, a towel on each shoulder, and sporting my board shorts (I did have goggles though). What am I doing here?
Not too long after we arrived a familiar voice called everyone over for the pre-event speech. Craig Latimer has been the driving force behind this event since its inception. He has brought it to where it is today and is the person everyone always looks to for guidance on event day. His voice was calming to me and then I at least knew I was in good hands.
As we gathered to get our instructions, the girl’s excitement began to rise… along with my anxiety. How was I going to keep up with these people? Sure I used to swim on my lunch break with an awesome instructor. Miss Ledys had taught me everything I needed to know about swimming. I had my stroke, I could bi-laterally breathe, and most importantly…I knew I wouldn’t drown. But the last time I was in the pool was about two years ago and it showed.
Again it was Craig to the rescue. He began to line us up by the time we thought we could swim the 100 meters in. Under 1 minute, 1 – 1:15, 1:15 – 1:30, and so on. All I needed to know was where the back of the line was going to be at. But, as I found my spot I began to realize that I wasn’t alone after all. There we all stood, children in tow and with the same look of relief, the “end of the line crew”. Let the young speedsters have their spot at the front of the line. We just wanted to make it, to finish, swimming a distance that seemed so short before we arrived but now seemed so painfully long.
There I stood with my girls, suddenly ready to take on this challenge. As I was in line I realized that it didn’t mater how fast I finished…but that I finished. For a lot of us at the end of the line it’s about doing something that we haven’t done before. For me, this was my first swim “meet”. It was my first time getting in the water and trying to see if I could swim the distance and to do it as fast as I could. Heck, I was going to set a personal best that day. That’s an accomplishment right? Going from nothing to something is a step.
I stood there and enjoyed the time I got to spend with my girls (who never doubted I could do it by the way). I began to understand that they had the right attitude. “What? We have a chance to get in the pool and swim? Let’s go!”
Don’t get me wrong. I still was in awe as the first group of swimmers took off. The buzzer rang and they were gone and I mean gone. That was some impressive stuff. Fifty seconds and they were still upset at their time! I was just hoping to get across the pool once in 50 seconds.
There were some great swimmers there and a lot of people came to watch them. Or so I thought. But as we inched closer to the front of the line nobody was leaving. A lot of people stayed to watch the other heats. Why was that? Did they want to make sure their time stood up against the competition? I felt like saying “you can go home now, there’s no threat here!”
As we got to the front and we were counted for the next group I felt the best I probably had the entire day. The girls were excited to finally get to see me swim (isn’t it nice to be Superman in the eyes of some?) and I was confident I could make it. They called us up and I handed my card to my timer and apologized to him that he would be the one to have to wait for me to finish. To which he responded “Don’t worry, you’ll do fine.” The funny thing is I actually believed him.
Now I have to say that the beginning of my story wasn’t exactly the truth. I wasn’t poised on the starting blocks. In fact, when it was my turn, I eased myself into the water and got ready to do my customary push off to start. However, I did wonder how I got myself into this and why everyone was still there. The next thing I knew the starter was saying “swimmers take your mark” and then there was the horn. I was off. It was all coming back to me. Everything I was taught hadn’t left me. The first lap was great and all I could hear were two little voices saying “Go Daddy!” But, even though my training came back, my stamina didn’t. I had to throw in a little, tinny backstroke to catch my breath (sorry Miss Ledys). At least I could say my style was unique. I never did stop though and I finished. Then I heard the people who had stayed cheering. Was it because of a great time? Was it a great race? What was it? It’s then I realized that it was because we all finished. The people were staying to cheer for everyone as they finished. It didn’t mater if you finished under a minute or over 5 minutes as long as you finished.
As we continued our experience with my girls doing their 25 meters and hearing the same cheers as I did, I couldn’t help but feel good about what happened that day. Thanks to all of the great volunteers the event went very quickly and was a joy to be a part of. They made us feel like they were there just for us. I set a personal best for my swim (over 2 minutes, but under 3). My girls got a shirt and a medal that they both wore proudly to school the next day. But most of all I now know that you don’t have to be the fastest or the best to compete in the Quad Games. You just have to want to accomplish something that you may have never done before. All that matters is that you try and do the best that you can do.
So now it’s on to the next event for me, the bike. I will bust out my Schwin mountain bike and the bike helmet I got for free to go against all of the spandex wearing, street bike riding, super fast riders out there. Come join me for the ride. I won’t be hard to spot. I’ll be the one at the end of the line with a look on my face that says “how did I get myself into this and why are all these people still here?”