Best Seat in the House

Emily Lilyestrom

Best Seat in the House

A smart young man told me fairly recently that his mom – ever present at his swim meets – always said the best seat in the house belonged to the timers.  And like most mothers, she was right.

Our last “A” meet of what has been a spectacular season.  The disjointed caravan arrived at the Tilden Woods pool sometime around the hour of 8:00 a.m., or so it seemed.  Swimmers were clad in neon brights – from their hair down to their swimsuits.  And as the team approached the pool deck, music playing, preparing to make their entrance they were silenced; something about a noise policy.  Little did the Tilden Woods Dolphins know that by attempting to silence our team, they were actually energizing the Kingfish, energizing them to swim even harder because we are all about making an impression.  And that we did.

But let’s get back to that ever-present perspective – and see this meet from the perspective of a timer.

The meet begins with IM – 12 & under through 15-18, Boys and Girls.   It is the event in which one can truly see the depth of a team since swimmers are required to swim all four strokes – starting with the most challenging of them all, Fly.   And even though the deck is packed with parents and teammates alike – yelling and screaming because that is simply what you do at a swim meet – it is the energy and emotion behind the blocks that only a timer gets to experience.  You get to see the grin on Chase’s face when he finds out that he just set a new team record in the 12 & under IM, breaking his own in the process.  Or the satisfaction on the faces of Lukas S. and Aidan G. as they dropped time – maybe a second or two – even though they felt like they were swimming in a hot tub.  And it is the smile that emerges from the face of Ainsley as she realizes that she also just set a new Team and Pool record in the girls 13-14 IM.  And as you let the swimmer’s know of their success every single one of them responds with a “Thank you.”

As we begin Freestyle and the timers are told to walk – we weave through the throngs of people on the deck, not quite the red carpet treatment as we rounded the corner to our posts, but you could surely see how we knew as a group that, despite the announcer’s attempts, the meet wasn’t going to start again until we were in place.

And then we had Freestyle.  Free always moves quickly.  There are no DQs and the kids – from 6 to 18 – are applauded by the timers because as the temperature on deck begins to mount and the shade begins to disappear, their speed is appreciated.  There is also nothing more gratifying than standing at the far end of the pool and watching Micah, Logan, Ethan, Harrison, Luke and Jacob churn the water with their arms, because they wanna be like Scott, Aidan G., Jonathan, Lukas E.F., Philip and Jack.  Or watching Emma, Blake, Leila, Josie, Sasha, and Eliza push through the water because they want to be like Kasey, Caitlin, Gabby, Emma, Clare, and Monelli. 

The timers get to congratulate Aiden A. on his victory or let Justin, Graham, Jack, Sami, Kira, and Ayla know that they dropped time – two-tenths.  The elation on their faces for two-tenths – as they emerge from the pool looking first for mom and dad, and then Tim and Thomas, incomparable.  It never gets old, letting a swimmer know that they have improved – whether it is dropping time or setting a new record or just telling them they had a great race, because to say that a lot of time and effort is required for this sport would be an understatement.  So congratulations to Ainsley Taylor for setting a new Pool record in the Girls 13-14 50 Free.

After another “walk” or two around the pool deck, timers found themselves back in the shallow end of the pool – no shade to be found unless we retreated under the umbrellas pushed up against the wall and appropriately taken by Kentlands and Tilden Woods parents.  More than a few “excuse me’s” were extended as we stepped onto their bare toes – more shaded than were we.

The 8 & under Boys swept in Back and the Girls almost did, allowing a Tilden Woods swimmer to sneak in at 3rd.  Aiden and Justin were impressive in the Boys 9-10 event, coming in 1st and 2nd as were Vivian, tying for 3rd and Lily in the Girls event.  Don’t ever underestimate that half-point.  Chase Taylor came away victorious in the 11-12 Back and the 11-12 Girls may not have won, but 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gave us more points, congrats to Camille, Hannah, and Charlotte.   Our 13-14 Girls - Ainsley, Hannah, and Anya - all dropped time in their 50 Back, a feat that at this point almost seemed remarkable because now the pool really was a hot tub.  Congratulations once again to Ainsley on setting a new Kingfish record, breaking an 8 year-old record in the process.  Our 15-18 Boys swept their event, a fitting end to the Kingfish era of Aidan G., Scott, and Jonathan.  As Backstroke concluded – everyone on deck scurried for shade, like ants found under a rock - finding comfort as the Tilden Woods seniors were celebrated.

Score at the half:  Tilden Woods – 185.5; Kentlands – 230.5.

We began the second half with the Medley Relays and this is where timers have the envious position of being in the middle of unrivaled levels of on-deck energy.  The sound is deafening.  The Relay cheers are enlivening.  And as a timer you suddenly find yourself moving as though you are 18 again.  It is only moments later that you begin to look around, hoping that nobody saw you and hoping that the ever-present person with the camera is out of your range.

Our Boys came away victorious in the Medley Relay – adding to the cushion of points we hoped to have at the end of the meet.  The Girls also came away victorious and added to the cushion with a third place finish as well.  Scott Schwendinger, Aidan Goettsch, Jonathan Hofmann, Kasey Anderson, Samantha Fogle, Clare Lilyestrom, and Monelli Esfandiary completed beautiful final swims as a Kingfish.  (Yes, I know, some of them swam Breast and Fly – but they were all together on the relays so let’s just go with this!)

And now we get to Breast – most timers try to relax, knowing that there may be a DQ or two with the 8 and Unders, but by the time the swimmer reaches the 9-10 age group, all DQs are out of their system.  And then it starts, Boys – beautiful swims by Logan, Harrison, and Ethan, coming in 1st, 2nd, and 4th, respectively.  But a DQ prompts the announcer “relax swimmers” – but what about the timers.  And then the search begins.  Where did the Ref go?  Kentlands?  Tilden Woods?  There she is.  Why can’t she hurry up?  And all of this because at this point the temperature in the sun is at least 150 degrees.  The issue is resolved, the 9-10 events begin and remarkably, our Kingfish continue to drop time.  We walk the walk, while one timer quickly darts over to the outdoor shower and cools off.  Congratulations to our 13-14 Girls on their sweep of Breaststroke - Anya, Hannah, and Amelia – all while dropping time. 

As we wrapped up Breaststroke and headed for Fly the minutes seemed to turn into hours.   The heat was insufferable for most and yet all we had to do was get through Fly.  Names like Esfandiary, Lilyestrom, Schwendinger, Englert-Fernandez, and Takada-Jacobson were causing problems for the announcer and taking up too much time.  Water bottles were rolled over foreheads like we were athletes having just completed our 800 meter run – and we were just the timers.

Fly was epic.  But it always is.  I for one will never grow tired of watching the likes of Micah, Ethan, Harrison, Emma, Sasha, and Josie swim this stroke.  Nor will I grow tired of watching them evolve into Aiden A., Justin, and Grayson or Kira, Ayla, and Vivian.  Because the latter 6 all started out like the former.  And Chase, Jacob, and Brady all of whom will soon have the wingspan of Lukas S., Wills, and Matthias.  Or Charlotte, Allie, and Katie Beth – gliding through the water like dolphins limited only by the fact that they were not in open sea, but a 25-meter pool.  Ainsley, scoring yet another new Pool record, Hannah and Amelia – beautiful.  And the culmination of it all – the 15-18 group – perfection and remembering that they too were once an 8 & under. 

As the timers walked the walk one last time in preparation for the Graduated Free Relay it bears noting that the energy was real, but not quite the same as half time.  The heat had zapped just about everyone on deck – even the swimmers.  But as is often the case – that did not stop the Kingfish.  The swimmers lined up.  The teammates assumed their positions on deck.  Arms raised.  Swoosh.  And then suddenly, as is often the case with the final swimmer, the screams on deck were thunderous.   Our Boys came in 1st and 3rd and our Girls came in 2nd and 3rd.  Congratulations!

As the meet came to a conclusion, timers said goodbye to their new found friends from the other team (the very ones we will see next week at Divisionals), removed their watches, returned them to the box, and just like everyone else on deck, walked with a very slow gait to their air conditioned cars and headed home. 

A great “A” meet - the final “A” meet of the Summer of 2021.  It was a meet that gave Thomas a win-loss record of 8-7.  It was a meet in which Micah Bess and Ayla Ghosh did not let a silly thing like a bee sting stop them from swimming and swimming well.  It was a meet at which the oppressive heat pushed everyone’s limits – none of which were on display.  It was a meet at which every single one of us came away proud to say that we are the Kentlands Kingfish.

Final Score:  Kentlands – 438.5; Tilden Woods – 353.5.