Alan rested his arms wearily on the edge of the pool and gulped deep breaths of air. He’d lost to Chris again—by a tenth of a second. Alan wished he could beat his teammate in the 50-yard freestyle race just once!
As Alan hoisted himself from the water, Chris clapped him on the back. “Good race,” he said. “The two of us ought to take first and second this Saturday against Brookston. If we do, the team could get the district trophy.”
Alan wished he felt as confident about winning as Chris did. Instead, he groaned inwardly at the thought of letting the team down. He’d have to do well in both the 50-freestyle race and the 400-freestyle relay for the team to win, and he was afraid he couldn’t do it.
That evening when Alan sat down to supper, he tried not to think about swimming. But his brother Pete’s trophies kept staring down at him from the trophy shelf. Then Pete came into the kitchen, plopped into his chair, and immediately launched into his swim report. “What a workout we had at the pool today! But the coach clocked me at one minute thirteen in the 100-yard breaststroke. At that rate I could break the district record on Saturday.”
Pete turned to Alan. “How about you guys? Think you’ll bring home a trophy?”
“Chris thinks we will, but I’m not sure,” Alan answered. “They’re counting on me to take second in the 50-yard freestyle.”
“Why not a first?” Pete asked.
“You know I can’t beat Chris. Every time I take off a tenth of a second, he does too.”
“If you keep thinking like that you’ll never win a race,” Pete chided. “When you’re competing in a swimming meet, you have to think of yourself as a winner.”
“Sure, sure,” Alan muttered, pushing back his chair with an “Excuse me.”
Alan hurried down the basement steps and went over to the exercise mat where Pete kept his weights. Maybe I should try using them, he thought. Alan had watched Pete work out, so he knew what to do.
Just as Alan was about to lift one of his brother’s weights, Pete came down the stairs. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m going to lift some weights,” Alan replied as he got into position.
“You don’t start lifting weights three days before a meet. If you do, your muscles might tighten up, and you won’t have a chance of winning.”
Alan put down the weights and went upstairs to his bedroom. I might as well face it, he thought. I’ll never be as good as Pete or Chris. If only Saturday were over …
The day of the meet, as Pete walked to the locker room with Alan, Pete delivered his familiar pep talk: “Remember now, don’t start thinking you’re going to lose. I’ve been watching you, and you can swim just as fast as Chris. You can start adding your own trophies to the family collection.”
Pete clapped Alan on the back, and the younger boy hurried off to change into his suit. It’s easy for Pete to talk about beating Chris, he thought, but I’m the one who has to swim the race!
When the time came to swim the 50-freestyle, Brookston was slightly ahead of Lakewood in team points. Chris slapped Alan on the shoulder good-naturedly and said, “Don’t forget—we’re going for first and second.”
When the starter’s gun sounded, Alan made a good, long, entering dive and came up to the turn even with Chris. Alan knew Chris would pull ahead now—he always did on the second length. Alan sucked in air and choked on some water. For an instant his rhythm broke, and he felt Chris touch the wall before him. What was even worse, the swimmer from Brookston had edged out both of them. That meant Lakewood had to win both the backstroke and the freestyle relay to win.
Alan helped Chris stretch out for the backstroke race, working his arm muscles and drawing out his legs. Chris didn’t disappoint the team. He pulled ahead even before he reached the first turn. And when he smacked his hand against the wall for the finish, the timer flashed a record-breaking 28.6 seconds.
But Chris got out of the pool white-faced, clutching his wrist. “I hit too hard. Something’s wrong!”
Quickly the coach led Chris to the locker room, while the team murmured anxiously. When the coach came out of the locker room, he was alone and he headed straight for Alan.
“The trainer’s taking Chris for an X-ray, Alan. We’ll put Tony Ramos in as third swimmer, and you’ll swim anchor.” The coach gave him an encouraging smile. “You can do it, Alan. You’re as good as Chris is—maybe even better. I’ve been watching your progress. Now, get out there and get that win for us!”
Alan swallowed hard. He wasn’t “as good as Chris.” And he’d have to be even better if he was to beat the swimmer from Brookston! Alan’s eyes moved up into the stands. He saw Pete pointing his thumb up in the air in a sign that meant, “Get in there and win!”
As they lined up for the start, Alan looked over the Brookston team. Sure enough, the power swimmer who had beaten Chris and him earlier would be Brookston’s anchorman. What chance did Lakewood have!
But the Lakewood team put up a battle. Alan watched his teammates churn up and down, splashing water as far as two lanes away. Lakewood fell behind on the third leg, though, and Brookston’s anchor swimmer got off the block before Alan did. Not wanting to let his team down, Alan resolved to do his best. He poured all his strength into each kick, each stroke. Then, at the turn, Alan saw that he was almost even with the Brookston swimmer! Somewhere, deep down inside, Alan felt a new confidence.
I’m not going to let him beat me! he decided. His legs ached, his arms hurt, but he pulled and kicked harder than he’d ever done before. He began a rhythmic chant to himself: Pull and win. Pull and win. With a final surging stroke he hit the touch pad. The electronic timer flashed the results, and a great shout broke from the Lakewood team. They’d won!
Alan’s teammates pounded him on the back, and he heard the coach exclaim, “You did it!”
Now Pete was beside him, his eyes dancing. “Hey, Brother, what got into you?” he asked.
“Oh, I just got to thinking,” Alan answered.
“That’ll do it!”
Alan nodded happily as he went to get the trophy that just might be the start of his own collection at home.