Steph& P.Units 2

Me with my parents on senior night of high school swimming

Coming from a swimming family, we watched Olympic swimming before it was cool. I remember watching Janet Evans and her unorthodox freestyle stroke. And my cousin telling me swimming wasn’t a sport; I was furious. During the 1996 Olympics, our age-group swim team had a contest for attendance and swimming distance. I medaled in the contest and brought home an Olympic towel that I cherished and wore out by the time I finished my senior year of high school swimming. Even though I knew I would never be good enough to make the Olympic swim team, watching the Olympics somehow made me feel validated in my sport. Like what I did mattered.

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Every summer people drown here. We live on Lake Michigan. A lake people often underestimate. So they jump off piers and never resurface. Or they mistake their own abilities and literally get in over their heads. Learning to swim (and I mean really swim) is nonnegotiable in our family. Because someday our teenage kids will want to head down to the beach with all their friends. Or they’ll accidentally get over their heads and no one will notice. So we will make sure they know how to swim and how to swim well. And we’ll teach them respect for this Great Lake that claims the lives of even the strongest swimmers.

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This is the first year my kids have been old enough to comprehend a summer Olympics. My daughter, who is in awe of my general swimming ability, asked if I was going to the Olympics soon. This made me smile. And then I told her that I used to be even better at swimming and I still wasn’t even close to going to the Olympics. She was disappointed.

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When we watched the replay of the amazing Simone Manuel winning gold in Rio, my daughter heard the announcers talking about how she was the first African-American woman in history to win an individual gold in Olympic swimming. She was curious about the significance of this. We talked about segregation and access and people’s misconceptions about people they don’t know or understand. She was furious.

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It’s always tempting to take the easy way out. To give in when our daughter says she doesn’t want to go back to swimming lessons the next day. To rest in our privilege instead of answering the hard questions. To pretend she’s too young to talk about difficult things instead of fostering open communication from a young age.

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My daughter and I watched the 100 women’s freestyle again. Once again, seeing Simone take gold. We were thrilled.

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“Watch this!” my daughter yells from the lake. “I can’t believe it. I’m so good at swimming now!” She was joyful.