Tric Kearney: I wobbled away in need of a sit down. As life returned to my muscles, I vowed never again. It was time to move on

THERE’S always something lovely about a Friday, but today is an even more glorious Friday as it heralds St Patrick’s weekend and with it my birthday.

Yes, I’m another year older. I have reached that time in life where, when someone asks me, ‘What age are you?’ I can’t immediately remember. What year was I born? Ah yes. And what year is it now? No, that couldn’t be right. Quickly I recalculate and, unless it’s a medic who’s asked the question, I lie, knocking at least five years off.

Not too long ago, I had a big birthday which didn’t sit easily with me. I couldn’t be that old, I sighed looking at my reflection in the mirror which told me I most certainly could.

Sharing these thoughts with a friend she wasn’t entirely sympathetic, “I don’t know what you’re upset about. Enjoy today, because you’ll never be this young again.”

The thing about my ageing is, that despite the years ticking by, inside I continue to feel I’m in my youthful prime. Unfortunately, a few years ago, I realised that does not include being the lean, mean, competitive swimming machine I once was.

My sad and sorry lesson took place at a masters swim gala where swimmers over the age of 24 can race without speedy youngsters showing them up.

Watching others compete, I remembered the thrill, the rush of adrenaline and the drive to win regardless of the pain.

In a moment of madness, I borrowed togs, cap and goggles and without thinking it through lined up to take part. In hindsight, I wonder, what on earth was I thinking? I should have been on medication. It was only as my race was called, reality dawned.

Like someone walking towards execution, I made my way to the diving blocks, the whoops of support from young swimmers I coached making me feel ill. I climbed up on the blocks, which were much higher than I’d remembered.

“Take your marks.”

Bending down it struck me, ‘take your marks’ is a position that would fit well in a yoga class. The whistle blew and my body slapped into the water expelling all air from my lungs at great speed. However, remembering my audience of young swimmers who regularly hear me roar, “No breathing for the first half-length,” I kept my head down. With arms and legs flying I swam on, hoping I’d not blackout.

Finally, I gasped my first breath. It was then, as I sucked in glorious oxygen I saw her… a fellow swimmer, edging ahead. All thoughts of “help, I think I’m dying,” left me, as the will to win took over.

Ignoring the burning in my chest I battled on, despite momentarily losing all sense of direction as I emerged from the tumble turn.

Five yards from the finish, yer one was still beside me. With nothing left to give, I resorted to silently calling her names as I kicked my dead legs furiously. Possibly moments from death I hit the finish, milliseconds before her. An Olympic gold medal winner could not have been more delighted.

On jelly legs, I approached the timekeepers.

“What time did I do?” I wheezed.

As they spoke, I suspected I must have water in my ears. Surely someone of my talent, who had raced as fast as I had, could not have recorded a time 12-year-old me would have been embarrassed by.

I wobbled away in need of a sit down. As life returned to my muscles, I vowed never again. It was time to move on.

And that is exactly what I did, to a lively local location, where I made another mistake…I forgot I was only going for one drink.

With age comes wisdom, they say. Thankfully, I’m not that old yet.

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