Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tuesday

It felt like icicles were forming on my back as I stood next to the swimming pool, waiting for my swim team’s coach to arrive. Shivering, I looked left and right, unable to find him. Today was Torture Tuesday. Although I was not looking forward to it, standing in the chilling air was another torture itself. The swimming pool in which my swim team held its practices was next to the bay, and our practices were so perfectly timed that the frosty breeze would hit us when we practiced, freezing the water on our skin.

After what seemed like eons, the coach arrived and commanded, “Get into the pool, and start your warm up. We have lots of stuff to do, and I know you are all looking forward to today’s routine.” Our little troop groaned, being the little eleven year olds we were, and slid into the chilly water, albeit a relief from the cold air. We did our repetitive and simple warm up, accepting our fate. Burning and stiff muscles were all that awaited us. You may be wondering what these Torture Tuesday’s were. Torture Tuesdays were extremely similar to the well known “suicides”, but these were literally, SUICIDES. Suicides are when you run a certain distance, run back to where you started, then run back that certain distance, return, then run even farther than before, then repeat that process for however long the coach chooses, or until you throw up.  This was Torture Tuesday’s, but with a such a genius twist that only a mad scientist devise it. Being a swim team, instead of running, we would swim more and more laps, alternating between freestyle and butterfly (Butterfly is a VERY exhausting stroke).

This is how a normal Torture Tuesday went: First, we would do a simple, relatively relaxing lap of freestyle. We would get out of the water, do a pushup, then dive back into the water, this time doing two laps in butterfly. We would then proceed to rapidly exit the water, do two pushups, then get back into the water again, and swim three laps in freestyle, et cetera. We would do this for a whopping, excruciating twelve times, for a grand total of seventy-eight laps, and seventy-eight pushups.

As we began our evil, world domination worthy routine, my shoulders started to ache just watching the other kids begin their push off, almost my turn. The first lap was like the calm before the storm, peaceful and fluid, the pushup a tiny annoyance.  However, my strength started to erode by the third set. Every time my shoulder and arms went above the water, preparing for the next stroke, I would feel a shocking pain, my muscles begging me to stop. However, no matter how far I swam, how many laps I did, whatever stroke I was swimming, the pushups would always be the most agonizing. The ground enveloping the pool was like the Cyclops’s Cave from the Odyssey, uneven and full of sharp rocks. When I did pushups, I could feel the rocks and grooves digging into my frozen hands. I looked at my hands, and I could see the pattern that the ground carved into them, almost as if my hands were wooden blocks, and a knife scratched words into them. Then, I dove into the pool, a 10/10 Olympic dive, and began to swim.

From far away, a stranger would not be able to make out the suffering. We looked like salmon- No. We were salmon hopping upstream, knowing that exhaustion was our final end. We all had one goal; we needed to complete the routine.

By the ninth set, I was six feet under. I was dead. I was a swimming zombie. I could not feel. I was performing the Nike slogan perfectly. I just did, and did, and did, but I didn’t think. I apparently was sleeping in an awkward position while swimming at the same time, because my legs, arms, and hands all felt numb. Every breath hurt, but I couldn’t stop. Every breath felt like swallowing a burning match, the fire burning the inside of my lungs, spreading all the way to my heart and stomach. I could’ve sworn I was being cooked over a bunsen burner. I heard the coach scream, “Faster! Faster! FASTER!”

I scrambled out of the pool, and did eight pushups in the liquid nitrogen temperature air, the ground scraping and performing an archeological dig on my hands. Suddenly, as if lightning hit me out of nowhere, my brain fried. I didn’t know what set I was on. Time was a jumble. As the other kids started their pushups, we all grabbed kick boards and used them to protect our defenseless hands against the cruel ground, begging for mercy. However, there wasn’t enough of the lovely cushions, so we fought and shoved over who used the kick boards.By now, you must be wondering why I kept swimming, if all this was so cringe worthy and wincable.

Everyday, every single day, I would remember that it was all worthwhile. Every painful stroke, every tiring and exhausting pushup, all led to winning in swim meets, beating your own time, and that feeling of success and happiness when the comes with triumph.
Most of all, I remember the determination and grit I had. I was able to swim a total of seventy-eight laps and execute seventy-eight pushups each Tuesday. I remember never stopping, never complaining, and always finishing Torture Tuesdays, regardless of how intensely painful it was each time. Perseverance. That is what I value most in my identity.

Stargazing

It was a freezing cold, dark night, and I was wearing three layers of clothes. Nonetheless, I felt the damp air on my neck. I was with my fellow Galaxy Explorers from Astronomy team at Chabot Space and Science Center. Everyone was excited about tonight. We were going outside of the Center to hike in Redwood Regional Park so we could view stars without light pollution, the bane of any astronomer’s existence. Of course, I was clowning around making bad puns while we walked on a trail, and we all shared some good laughs.
We found a perfect spot where the light was blocked by trees and we could see plenty of eye-grabbing stars. I focused my binoculars on Polaris to calibrate them. Then, we laid down in silence and began looking at the different nebulae and stars. We found the blurry thumbprint, the Andromeda Galaxy. Suddenly, I lost my breath. The beauty was overwhelming. Although I couldn’t see it clearly, it was very bright. Seeing an entire galaxy, alike the one we inhabit, as a faraway smudge, put into perspective just how tiny we all are. I was literally looking at more stars in one small spot of the sky than in our entire galaxy. It tugged at my heart, and I yearned to know; why are we here, why is the universe here? I remember a quote by Carl Sagan, “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” At this moment, I remembered what I found so interesting in astrophysics and space. I want to learn everything I can about astrophysics and the reality of the universe. Since I was a child, I was interested in the unknown. I’d look up at the sky and wonder why the stars were twinkling, or why one blue, another red, which was hotter, which was larger. Now, I spend my time browsing the internet, reading science magazines, and going to museums to satisfy my curiosity.