Where are those sheep when you need them?
We often praise people who don’t have a ‘sheep mentality’. Those who can forge their own way and not simply be lead. It’s a quality I admire and try to practice. And that’s all well and good, but as I discovered yesterday, there are moments when the ‘sheep mentality’ deserves consideration.
My husband and I stood excitedly in the grandstand of the Penrith Regatta Centre as our 11 yr old lined up with hundreds of other kids to compete in his first biathlon. None of our boys have ever been especially ‘sporty’ so we were more than happy to support our youngest when he came home and told us that he had entered this race.
We knew he could run 2km (based on the fun run they do at his school each year) and while he can swim (thanks to weekly swimming lessons), we weren’t sure he’d make the distance in open water – well at least not in one stroke. So I explained to him that if he needed to take a break from freestyle, he could just turn over and backstroke for a bit - afterall, we weren't gunning for a win, a good effort was what we were hoped for. He was happy with that, and it seemed like a solid plan.
However, I should have been alerted that our plan may not go as well as we hoped when the boys were asked to swim out to the starting line to tread water until the gun sounded. As I scanned the mass of freestyling swimmers, I spotted one boy, our son, doing backstroke. ‘Oh dear’ I said to my husband and older son ‘that’s not promising, he’s backstroking already. That was supposed to be the back up plan, not the 'out of the gate' option’. Oh well, not to worry I thought, it makes no difference how you get to the start line.
So the swimmers took their places and before we knew it, were off. The lake came to life with what seemed like a pack of hungry Piranha’s churning up the water.
Again I anxiously scanned the group looking for my son, and there I found him, in the middle of the freestyling pack, backstroking.
I was never keen on backstroke. I always found the idea of not knowing where I was going quite unnerving. This however, seemed not to be a fear shared by our son as he blindly moved along with the pack. And this was all going swimmingly well…for about 5 meters when he changed his racing tactics.
At first it looked as if he was simply finding his own space. Good work I thought, that’s smart, get out of the way of those feet kicking your head. But it soon became clear that this was not the level of thought behind his plan.
As he moved diagonally across the field, he was employing something I can only compare with the way a sailboat tacks. Unfortunately for him though, this had little to do with taking advantage of the direction of the wind and more to do with having no clue which direction you needed to be heading in.
So as we helplessly looked on (and giggled quietly to ourselves), our son headed directly across the lake instead of down. Thankfully, the race supervisors on their kayaks, spotted our wayward swimmer and paddled out to gently herd him back. Sadly though, that was only the first of many ‘re-positioning efforts’ in a constant game of ‘catch our son before he heads into the carpark on the other side!’ By this time, I was openly laughing as I imagined only a shark cage or the like, would keep him moving in a straight line.
Needless to say, our son swam more than the 200m. At a conservative guess, we think it was at least double. But he did it, getting out of the water 2nd last and dashing through to the transition for the run! I couldn’t have been more proud. However, I think my husband’s dream of one day bonding together in a triathlon was dashed as our son vowed at the end, never to do an open water swim again.
But you know what? I love this. There is nothing 'sheep like' about our boys. They all walk their own interesting (and sometimes painful) path. And it's this 'crooked trajectory' that allows them to learn as they go. And when all else fails...we get to reminsce and laugh about it together, and that's what makes it all worthwhile.
p.s In case you’re wondering why he even started in backstroke, he said it was because the water was so icy cold. This made him constantly pant and he felt he couldn’t get enough breath for freestyle – method in his madness