JUNE 30, 2011

I have been to countless competitions over my twenty-two year swimming career.  Without a doubt, my favorite meet over those years has been the Santa Clara International.  Now part of the Speedo Grand Prix series, two weekends ago marked my sixteenth time attending that meet.  The only time that I missed competing at Santa Clara since 1995 was in 2009 when I was taking my year off of competition.   Lane 5, 100 backstroke

I can still remember the first time I qualified for that meet.  I was twelve years old and didn’t really know the history of the Santa Clara International.  After hearing about the free pancake breakfasts and goodie bags at check-in, I was sold.  That would have been enough to get me excited about going, but then I learned that Olympic champions would be swimming in the same meet as me.  Since I watched my first Olympics in 1988, I was fascinated with the seemingly untouchable Olympic swimmers.  Now I got to be in the same pool as them? Beyond exciting. 

Sc Interl 5
Leaning over the banister to get Summer's autograph. (Back of my head, blue T-shirt)

My family and I went to Kauai every year to visit relatives, and decided to cut our trip short that summer so that I could attend my first big competition.  I couldn’t believe that people like Summer Sanders and Amy Van Dyken would be swimming in the same pool as me.  My coach told me not to freak out during warm-up.  He said not to worry if I got run over (which I did).  He told me “do what you need to do to get ready” and explained warm-up etiquette.  I swam the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke.  I didn’t get a personal best or qualify for finals, but I was hooked.  

I remember watching Summer Sanders swim at that meet and remember asking her for her autograph, which she graciously provided.  I waited until she finished her post-race warm-down in the special “Olympians only” diving well pool and then got my autograph. My little sister even got a picture with Summer, but I was a too cool to ask.  (Too embarrassed to be honest, but you guys know how pre-teens can be.)  

Growing up, that meet was the big kick-off meet to the rest of the summer season.  Every kid was automatically excited because it was the first meet after school got out for the summer.  The Saturday and Sunday final sessions were filmed for television, so my teammates and I desperately tried to make finals to earn our spot on TV.  (Back then very few, if any, meets were put on television.) 

Sc Interl 2

Just a handful of other memories: There was always an International presence, hence the name.  As a kid Japan always sent their junior team and today Australia sends a fairly large contingent.  Japan would always dominate the stands with their cheers and energy, waiving countless paper fans with their flag…  It was the first time I saw the great Russian sprinter, Alexander Popov who had such mystique in the swimming world…. A red convertible sports car would sit below the scoreboard as a prize for whoever broke a world record.  I never saw anyone earn that car but the possibility was exciting enough.  

I could go on and on about all of my memories regarding the International, but decided to stick with a few favorites.  I have always loved that meet and will continue to compete at it until the day I hang up my swimsuit.