Our family grew up with a very competitive spirit. From board games to arguments, we siblings enjoyed proving ourselves to each other – or proving ourselves better than each other.
To this day, I haven’t seen such lively games of Risk or Monopoly – often requiring the intervention of our Mom to maintain the peace around the table. One such occasion involved her intervention in a heated game of Monopoly.
Steve, it seemed, was taking advantage of the young siblings with his outrageous attempts to control the board; offering measly trades and compromises when one of us had the bad fortune of moving our piece onto one of his properties. He reminded me a bit of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life…
Our cries reached the ears of our Mom, who interrupted the game to restore the peace. “That’s it!” she declared:
“No more trading properties!”
Even as disgruntled players, we knew this was overstepping the natural order of a good Monopoly game. We resumed trading as soon as she stepped out of the room, Steve won, and all of us went to bed feeling a little defeated that night.
Mom and Dad found ways to foster healthy realms of competition. They knew each of us had our own talents and found ways for each of us to shine, independently of our siblings. One such example of this was our participation in swim team.
Columbus Parks & Recreation offered a Summer swim team program at each of its regional city pools. There were about 10 different pools in the Columbus metropolitan region. Our family found a home at a pool close to The Ohio State University campus – Tuttle Pool.
Every Summer, we would load into our family car and drive to the pool. Swim team started at 10am, which included group warm-ups on a large expanse of concrete pavement in front of the pool.
After stretching, all of the kid would head to the pool and wait for the command from the swim coach. We never knew what to expect. Would it be an easy warm up, or something heinous?
“1,600m freestyle warm-up. Go!”
32 laps…as a warm-up. The whistle blew and there was nothing we could do but dive into the freezing cold water and start swimming.
Swim team was a way for us siblings to share each other’s victories. We were all in different age brackets, which meant there was no direct competition with each other.
These mornings were also our opportunity to share in each other’s suffering. Whenever it rained, we dreaded the morning drive to the pool and all knew what was coming.
After a heavy rain, the pool would near-frigid temperatures. The result was the feeling of diving into a pool of ice, with no choice but to swim hard until your body warmed up to the freezing temperature.
I look back fondly at all of these mornings at Tuttle Pool. As much as I hated jumping in the pool on a cold morning, I enjoyed the competition. More importantly, I got something that I always wanted – a trophy.
As a child, I looked at my friends who had shelves of trophies from the sports they were involved with. I, too, wanted to have glimmering gold trophies that highlighted my achievements.
Swim team provided me – and all of the other siblings – with shelves of trophies and dozens of blue ribbons. All of us were very talented swimmers and each of us set city-wide records during the 9 years we participated in swim team.
Mom always told me that trophies would someday just be clutter on shelves which would gather dust and be a pain to clean. She was right.
For a few years, I held onto my swimming trophies. One day, I decided it was time to say goodbye and began to throw them into the trash can. One by one, I watched them disappear from my shelf and into the trash can.
I no longer needed a shelf of dusty trophies to feel accomplished. The reward behind swim team wasn’t a blue ribbon or cheap plastic trophy.
The real prize of swim team was knowing you had the grit to meet the whistle every morning and jump into a pool of freezing cold water while other kids were stuck at home, watching cartoons.