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Playing Against the Clock
Rick Telander
December 29, 2003
WHAT POSSIBLE SENSE CAN A MAN MAKE OF BUSTED FINGERS AND ENDLESS SWIM MEETS AND FOUR CONFOUNDING, ATHLETIC CHILDREN AND RACCOONS IN THE GARAGE AND FEAR OF FOOTBALL AND THE YEARS SPINNING, SPINNING, SPINNING BY?
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December 29, 2003

Playing Against The Clock

WHAT POSSIBLE SENSE CAN A MAN MAKE OF BUSTED FINGERS AND ENDLESS SWIM MEETS AND FOUR CONFOUNDING, ATHLETIC CHILDREN AND RACCOONS IN THE GARAGE AND FEAR OF FOOTBALL AND THE YEARS SPINNING, SPINNING, SPINNING BY?

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I can feel each man's heart pounding. I can feel each man flexing, preparing. I can see the anger in their eyes, the outrage, fear. I have no awareness of being at a boys' basketball game. None whatsoever.

We're three games into the football season, and Z's twiglike arms are covered with bruises. There is a scab on his jaw. Cuts on his legs. But last week he caught a 65-yard pass and then made receptions on three plays in a row. He nailed a kid on a punt coverage. "He's a tough kid," says one of our volunteer dad coaches, Jim Covert, a two-time Pro Bowl lineman for the Bears in the '80s.

Yes, but he's a kid, a toothpick. I sometimes see him in the chair in his room, drawing skateboards, singing to himself. He has stuffed animals on his bed. I worry.

Lauren and Cary were ecstatic. Their 200-yard medley relay team had just set an Illinois high school record at the prelims of the state meet in Winnetka on Friday. Lauren swam backstroke and Cary swam breaststroke, and—guess what?—Dad was pretty excited too. Now it is Saturday, finals day, and the race is on. The screaming and splashing and echoing din are almost more than I can take. Florence Mauro, the best swimmer on our team, a state champion in the butterfly two years before, is churning through the water against Mary DeScenza, the previous year's champ, from Rosary High. DeScenza, whose team's nickname is the Beads, thrashes into the narrow lead. We are losing ground (losing water?). Now it is up to the freestylers, and they roar home in a photo finish. The times flash on the scoreboard: Rosary: 1:46.37; our team: 1:46.44. Both times break the state relay record we set less than 24 hours earlier.

But the Beads have won. By .07 of a second. The interval between your two hand slaps when you attempt to bang both hands down simultaneously on a table. My daughters are destroyed. How many thousands of hours have they swum for this? Then, too, what's wrong with second place? Right.

Three of the girls on our medley team will go on to swim in Division I—Mauro will get a full ride to Arizona State—but the damage is done. It helps only marginally when two years later DeScenza swims the United States' fastest 100-meter fly at the world championships in Japan.

"I'll never get over it," Lauren said the other night while home from college. "Not really."

"The news isn't good," says Dr. Wiedrich. "The artificial joints have mostly failed. There's just too much stress on them. It's unfortunate. Check back in a year or so."

I thank him. I know for certain that I am too old for a sports injury to be cool or a status symbol or anything other than a dent in the armor that is failing, failing, failing. Before failure.

Cary calls. She is studying in her dorm room, and her roomies can be heard in the background. They are all swimmers. Nicole is icing her shoulder, as she does every day. Liz has a damaged thumb and has to tape her hand into a ball to swim. Kristin hurt her wrist while body surfing in Hawaii and is still rehabbing. Cary is just tired.

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