The water was warm in the pool the next morning. Too warm. It would have been alright for casual swimmers, but not for someone who had not had enough sleep and who had got a record to break. Barney really did need to improve his front crawl time.
He swam up and down the pool a few times. He wasn't making a particular effort. He just wanted to wake himself up a bit. This was just a warm up after all. Geoff Williams, his coach, wouldn't be watching him at this stage. The sun had come up now but was still low in the sky and dazzled him as it shone through the windows at the end of the pool. A shadow stepped into the light.
“More effort Barney. You should be more supple than that already.”
Barney recognised Geoff's voice.
“Now let’s have a proper warm-up session. Two lengths front crawl, one back, two breast-stroke and one final front crawl. Steady at first, and then fast as you can on the last length.”
Barney set off. He tried to measure and balance each stroke as he moved through the water. He concentrated on his movements, trying to get each one exactly right.
“Good,” said Geoff, as he turned at the end of his first length. “Just watch how you cut through the water when your left hand comes down. It’s not going through cleanly enough.”
Barney concentrated on his left hand now. He felt his movements becoming even smoother in the water.
“Good, good,” mumbled Geoff. “Try and turn in one movement.”
Barney flipped over on to his back. He enjoyed back crawl. You could keep your eyes open and it was easier to breathe, even though the movement with the arms was a little bit more difficult. Soon he had completed that length and it was time for the breast-stroke. He controlled his breathing carefully. His head bobbed up and down. He was mastering the stroke and was actually beginning to enjoy it. Just the snag that he couldn’t go really fast.
“Now – go for it!” cried Geoff, as Barney came up to his final length.
There was something about Geoff's voice which always stirred Barney into action. The energy was now pumping around his body. He was suddenly wide awake. The water was still warm, but it didn’t bother him anymore. He still moved smoothly through the water because of his practice earlier but now more quickly. His heart began to pound and he became a little short of breath. Then something else seemed to take over and he was through the discomfort and going faster and faster. The water seemed to be working with him. He was no longer fighting it. Finally, he touched the side of the pool, out of breath, but pleased with himself.
“That was better!” said Geoff. “Now, let’s just work on your technique a bit more. Have a short rest, another warm-up and then we’ll time you.”
Barney was really into the session now. Geoff was a fair coach. He worked you hard. But it got results and he did give you the credit for them. Barney swam a few more lengths and Geoff pointed out one or two faults with his style. They worked on them a little. Then it was time for a rest, followed by another warm up.
“Okay, let’s get going then,” said Geoff.
Barney took a deep breath. Then off he went, arms cutting smartly through the water. He kept his head down as much as possible, only coming up every third or fourth stroke for air. He pushed and pushed, forcing himself to go faster and faster. Each time he looked up, the side was getting nearer and nearer. Then he pushed himself even harder.
“Come on, come on,” urged Geoff. “You can do it.”
Barney seemed to change gear, to enter another dimension. He could no longer hear the noise of the pool, just a gentle swish as his arms followed each other in and out of the water. There was no splash. On and on, speeding up all the time. He was numb. He couldn't feel the water, couldn't feel his own movements. He had forgotten who and where he was. He was just concentrating on getting through the water. He came to for just a few seconds and asked himself whether this was how Nick felt. Or didn’t feel. The nothingness. But no, Nick couldn’t control his muscles like that.
Then he could hear the noise again. Arms and legs were splashing through the water. Other voices were shouting instructions. He felt the water once more. Even if it was still not cold it was at least wet. His arm stretched forward and touched the side. As he felt the smoothness of the tiles, his left leg seized up completely. A pain shot through his side, almost into his arm. He wanted to cry out with the agony of it. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
“All right, all right, hang on in there.” Geoff was leaning over the side and pulling him out. He helped Barney up, and then started massaging his leg. Gradually, gradually the cramp stopped. Barney felt the warmth creeping up his leg, the life returning to it.
“The good news is,” said Geoff, now panting himself after the strenuous effort on Barney’s leg, “that you broke your own record – just. The bad news is that it is only just, and you should not be getting cramps like this.”
Barney dreaded what was coming next. And yet he knew!
“Not enough sleep. Not enough exercise. And junk food. Am I right?”
Barney nodded. He had spent so much time with Nick recently that he had rarely been home for dinner and ended up grabbing something simple out of the freezer. Nick’s Mum had often offered to feed him, but Barney found that difficult. Nick had to eat so slowly these days and Barney didn’t want to watch him choke.
Geoff suddenly clapped Barney on the back.
“But you did do it! And I know you’ll be sensible.”
Barney suddenly felt pleased with himself. So he was managing to do something right! If he could beat his own record despite everything else that was going on ….
“So what are your plans for the rest of the day?” asked Geoff, passing him another towel.
“Popping round to see Nick, and then homework,” explained Barney.
“Just be careful,” said Geoff quietly. “Don’t overdo things.”
That again, thought Barney. It was just too bad. They would all have to put up with it. There was no way he could let Nick down.
“Okay,” he mumbled back to Geoff. “See you Tuesday.”