This year, Miss M left her small community-based Primary School and began her High School career at a school four times the size. As she disappeared into an intimidating sea of girls on the first day, I marvelled at how very small she still is and how confidently she joined the student body.
Today, just over a week since that first day, she took part in the Inter-house Swimming Championships (the school is divided into four houses which compete against each other throughout the year). I was excited to go and watch her swim, but also nervous because Miss M isn’t a squad swimmer and I knew she’d be up against some extremely talented girls.
As I walked into the stadium, I gasped. The pool was enormous. The stadium was massive. The sheer number of girls sitting in the stand was overwhelming. I looked across the pool at my Little Miss M and she looked so very tiny.
She walked to the starting blocks for the 100m freestyle race, the last in a row of nervous bather-clad girls, climbed up and waited for the starting whistle.
“On your marks, get set… go!”
Seven girls dived off their blocks in perfect unison and they were off. Except for Miss M, who faltered as she came up from her dive and seemed to be fiddling with her goggles. (I found out later that her goggles had fallen off and her contact lenses had dislodged as she dived in.)
That split-second pause was enough to set her way back behind the other girls. With my heart in my throat, I watched her swim with all her might to catch up. As she swam, I began to realise something was wrong. She kept hitting the hard plastic of the lane ropes with her arms and then struggling to correct herself. She looked like she was struggling and the gap between her and the other swimmers was growing exponentially.
By the time she got to the end of her first lap, the other girls were almost three-quarters through their second lap. She began lap number two, clearly struggling and fidgeting with her goggles. As she neared the quarter mark, the race ended as the other girls touched the wall in quick succession. The crowd cheered the winners as my little girl forged on.
Heart pounding, I watched Miss M, a single tiny body not yet half way across a 50 metre pool and I imagined how she must be feeling. Was she frustrated? Upset? Embarrassed? Would this stadium of girls erupt in laughter? Would they ridicule her?
As she reached the halfway mark, she stopped and raised her goggles to her brow. Then something truly incredible happened. The crowd of teen girls began to cheer encouragement and a group of senior girls with pompoms ran to the poolside and yelled to her that she could do this. She took a deep breath and began to swim her guts out. The crowd roared and I looked around, incredulous, as I witnessed the student body of this incredible school rise up to cheer her on.
As she neared the finish line, I realised that it was not only the girls in her house who were yelling, but all the girls in the school, regardless of the colour shirt they were wearing. They cheered for her because she was one of them. She belonged.
Finally, after the bravest act of perseverance I’ve ever had the privilege to witness, Miss M touched the wall to the roar of the applause of 800 girls. She climbed out of the pool and was met with hugs and high-fives from girls she didn’t know and I looked on, astounded.
Sure, Miss M finished last, but she did it with fortitude. She may not have won any medals but she won my respect.
I am in awe of her immense courage and the unstoppable perseverance that kept her going when she could have climbed out and given up. I am also profoundly grateful to know that she was buoyed by the loud and magnificent support of a school that truly demonstrated the meaning of compassion, belonging and sportsmanship.
Today, my Miss M came stone last and failed spectacularly in front of her entire school. Isn’t it funny, then, that when I watch the video of her race, all I see is a winner.
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