“I’ve swum twenty laps already, and I just can’t go another one.” Susan shouted to her swimming coach, who was standing near the edge of the pool.

“Yes, you can!” Coach Andersen encouraged confidently. “You’re good for at least four more laps.”

Susan looked up at the tall thin man and wondered why he expected so much of her.

“Four more!” the coach shouted. “And watch that kick. Your rhythm is off.”

Susan pushed off from the bank feeling discouraged and wanting to cry. Carefully she cupped her hands and pulled at the water.

“One, two, three, four, five, six,” she counted over and over to herself as she kicked and then rhythmically fit her windmill-like arms into the pattern. Slowly but smoothly she glided over the water. Her arms and legs ached and her lungs gasped for air as her head turned in and out of the water.

Susan touched the edge and then sprung backward and began the backstroke. Once more she glided gracefully over the water.

As she neared the edge, she wished she could stop, but even in the water she could hear Coach Andersen’s voice calling from the deck, “Two more laps. You’re looking good, but don’t get lazy with those arms. Pull, pull!”

Susan turned on her stomach again and did one more lap freestyle and then tried another lap on her back. Her muscles were so tired she wondered how she could make it.

“The last lap! This is the last lap!” she kept telling herself as she moved through the water. She felt a smile cross her lips as she finished.

“That was pretty good,” Coach Andersen said without smiling. “We’ll have a short workout tomorrow, and then you’ll be ready for the swimming meet on Saturday. Remember what you can eat and what you can’t, and get to bed early tonight and tomorrow night.”

Slowly Susan crawled out of the pool. For a while she sat on the edge dangling her feet in the water and breathing fast to catch her breath.

Is all this worth it? she wondered. Or am I going to all this trouble and work for nothing?

Then she looked down at the pool and her thoughts changed. “This time I’m going to win!” she whispered. “Every time I practice and every time I lose, I learn something. I can’t give up now. I’m going to win!”

She grabbed her towel and sweatshirt and went in the dressing room to change her clothes.

Within fifteen minutes she was on the bus going home. By now her tired muscles were beginning to feel better.

At the first stop a girl about her age got on the bus. Susan watched as the girl walked down the aisle and then stopped next to her seat.

“Hi,” the girl said. “May I sit here?”

“Sure,” Susan replied.

“My name is Rachel Ann Moyle,” the girl said as she sat down.

“I’m Susan Thomas,” Susan replied.

“I’m going to visit my grandmother,” Rachel Ann said. Then she opened a small sack and pulled out two chocolate bars. “Would you like some candy?” she asked.

Susan looked longingly at the candy. She loved chocolate, but the coach’s rules kept ringing in her ears, “Don’t eat empty calories. Eat high protein foods.”

She looked once more at the candy bar and her mouth began to water. “I’d better not,” Susan finally said reluctantly, “but thanks anyway.”

“Come on,” Rachel Ann urged. “I’ll feel silly eating if you don’t.”

Susan looked once more at the candy. Then she remembered her tired muscles and all the work she had done so she could win.

“No, thank you,” she said very firmly. “I really wouldn’t care for any. But you go ahead. I don’t mind.”

During the next two days Susan’s thoughts alternated between discouragement and excitement. But as she climbed onto the starting block Saturday afternoon, she felt only a determination to win.

The starter’s voice called out, “Judges ready?”

Eight hands at the ends of the pool signaled readiness, and the voice instructed, “Swimmers, take your mark.”

Susan stepped up and curled her toes around the edge of the starting block.

“Get set,” the starter shouted.

Susan poised herself to make the starting dive.

Bang! The gun rang out and the eight swimmers flew off the blocks.

One girl led the way, with Susan a little behind her and a girl in the next lane just a little farther back.

Susan pulled and kicked down the first lap. As she made the turn, the girl in the next lane caught up with her so Susan let go with all her strength. Halfway down the lap she started gaining on the leader. The two girls swam neck and neck.

When Susan could tell she was starting to fall behind, she pushed herself even more. She felt as if she would burst, but the extra push was just enough. She finished two-tenths of a second before the other girl!

Coach Andersen ran over to help Susan out of the pool. His face was one big smile.

“Congratulations!” he said. “I knew you had what it takes.”

Susan gasped for breath. Her muscles ached, but she had never felt so good.

“Thanks, coach,” she whispered between breaths. “I owe it all to you.”

“No, you don’t,” he said. “You’re the only one who can win. I’ve helped a little, but you’re the swimmer!”

While Susan was getting dressed, she thought about what Coach Andersen had said. Lots of people are willing to help me, but it’s up to me to help myself too, she decided with a smile.

Illustrated by Ted Nagata