Feb. 29, 2004
by Tonya Rasor
Editor’s Note: Even the casual fan can watch a game, match or race unfold, but a lot of times there is more to the story that isn’t told. While traveling with her teammates to the ACC Swimming & Diving Championships (February 17-22), Florida State senior Tonya Rasor chronicled the experienced. This year she earned the athletic department’s Golden Torch Award for having the highest grade point average of any female student-athlete and at the ACC meet was honored with the Weaver-James-Corrigan Postgraduate Scholarship. This is her account:
Tuesday, 17 February – Travel Day:
Today was devoted to travel. It is imperative that we arrive a full day before the start of the meet so the fatigue and general tightness from travel can wear off in time to perform. We dressed “casual, but neat”, looking quite sharp for our flight, but we still must have appeared somewhat athletic.
“Are you cheerleaders?” one curious man asked.
“Are you dancers or basketball players?” an elderly lady queried.
Golda Marcus, our distance swimmer who just passes the five foot mark, replied, “Not basketball!”
I piped up, “And definitely not dancing!”
No guesses correctly tagged us as swimmers and divers. Perhaps we are less recognizable with dry hair.
In one of the terminals, I sat next to a man who seemed to have considerable interest in this traveling group of pretty girls. After he found out we were heading to Virginia for the ACC meet, he chronicled his two boys’ athletic careers, and then confided in hushed tones that he is “one of those who favors Rix.” Is that so?
“Yes, he’s just a good boy trying to do the best he can.”
As a member of a Florida State athletic team I am regularly assumed to have an absorbing interest in football. Of course, as with all FSU teams, I want them to do well. But on my way to the conference meet, I am concerned with the FSU women’s swim and dive team. We are going after the win.
The win has been our goal since the beginning of the season. Our season dual meet record is 15 wins, 2 losses. We have a very talented group of girls, and for the first time since I joined the team four years ago, we believe in ourselves and in our ability to capture the title. We may be casual on land, but in the water and on the boards, we are driven. We are a good group of girls who are going to do the best we can.
Wednesday, 18 February – Day 1:
Our excitement started building as we swam our last pre-race workout in the morning at the University of Virginia pool. Everyone said they either felt great or knew they would feel great. We spent the afternoon lounging and shaving down. It is important to get that last layer of dead skin off in order to better feel the water. This evening the racing started.
As our four relay swimmers stood behind the blocks getting ready to compete in the 800 (4 x 200) freestyle relay, the rest of the team competed in cheering wars. We yelled and clapped; we kept a constant roll of thunderous noise. One tradition that started at the Georgia Invitational two years ago is our version of the war chant. Head Coach Neil Harper bangs a four-beat rhythm with a shoe on a trashcan, and we all start singing “o’s” with the tomahawk chop. This chant cuts through the other team’s yelling and really gets the relay fired up for war in the water.
Our first relay broke the school record. The second relay, the 200 (4 x 50) medley (two lengths of each stroke) relay, whopped the competition. We went wild. According to the touch pad in the water and the sensitive platform on the block, the Maryland relay false started on one of the relay exchanges by a large -.37 seconds, but no officials saw it (though our team did), so Maryland still retained second place. Maryland ended the night four points behind us, in third. First night, and we were in second, four points behind the leader, Virginia. We jumped into a group hug and let our spirits soar. That night we called the boys team to let them know how well we were doing. Laughter resonated down the halls of the hotel. Several swimmers had trouble sleeping with all the excitement.
Thursday, 19 February – Day 2:
During the 500 yard freestyle, Lisa How made me laugh with her little-girl-oops face after she dropped the counter. Teammates of distance swimmers stand at the end opposite the starting blocks and lower plastic flip-board with numbers into the water at one end in order to help the racer count 20 lengths correctly. Lisa’s slipped from her hand and sunk to the bottom. Luckily, a spare was scrounged up.
In spite of our cheeriness, the morning couldn’t seem to carry the momentum of the previous evening. The 500 yard freestyle and 200 yard individual medley events were not up to par, and we could sense that. Loren Hansen started yelling encouragement as if she wanted to start a riot. “Come on guys! We can do this!” She knew we needed another spark. That spark came with Kayce Zemina. She swam a best time in her 50 free and got us going again. Lauren Brick and Emma Dutton followed with good swims.
The small spark from the morning didn’t catch fire. We walked into finals as if all we had were smoking embers and no matches. Our dream of winning seemed out of our grasp after our morning’s performance, but it was still in our hearts. We just were not focused. Neil saw this and gathered us in the hallway. We sat in a circle while he told us how well the divers had done. While we were resting in between prelims and finals, the divers had their preliminary rounds on the one-meter board. Five of our divers had made the finals, leaving only three divers from other schools in position to score. Suddenly our goal seemed reachable again. Neil left and we all looked at each other. I suggested ways to show each other we support each other and got the group talking. Jen Smith told the story of how Courtney McClow went into diving finals eighth two years ago and ended up winning it. We may have been behind, but, we told each other, we could pull into the lead again if we just gave it our all. We entered the pool deck again, this time clapping in rhythm and cheering. Our focus was back.
Angie Leach swam a best time in her 500 free and Emma won her 50 free. Other than that, though we took out our events with quick intensity, we couldn’t seem to hold on. The parents started yelling, “Make it to the finish!” “Get in there!” In swimming lingo, we were “dying” on the ends of our races, meaning we were slowing down. Loren Hansen said she was proud of herself for keeping her composure after her race because she knew she had done her best. Many of the girls deserve credit for that. We kept faith each other and gave no excuses
On the other hand, the divers did awesome. Dive after dive seemed perfect to my untrained eyes. We yelled as loud as we could after each dive because, according to the divers, everything affects the score. Maybe so, but Tiffany Manning, Courtney McClow, Taryn Ignacio, Camille Akridge, and Brittany Lerew didn’t need any help to sweep first through fifth. My dad later joked it was a Florida State Invitational with a few guests. With this success, Head Dive Coach Patrick Jeffrey told us the swim team about the special FSU flag. It fell off a van five years ago, and he ran over it. Since then, the divers have touched it for good luck at every championship. The flag is named Mojo. Many successes have occurred after “getting a little Mojo.” Patrick claims the same luck can come to swimmers, and past FSU swim team alumni have touched it.
Our 200 Freestyle Relay took second, but ended up first when Maryland was disqualified for a false start. This false start registered at a closer margin than last night’s, but the officials were keeping a hawk’s eye on their team, and both called it.
I time-trialed a 50 free after the relay, just to get into the meet. I hit a time one one-hundredth off my best, a good sign. I have been excited for this meet all season, and eager to race for a week now. My strokes, sprinting, and pacing have been right where they should be in practice. I want a national qualifying time and to make the FSU all-time top ten again. But most of all I just want personal best times and a college career that “ends with a bang!”
When the emcee at the start of night announced us as fifth, behind Duke, Emily Breen’s mouth gaped. At the end of the night we were announced first, and more than just Emily opened her mouth to cheer.
Friday, 20 February – Day 3:
Today was our strong day because there were three 100s – sprints. This morning we had energy emanating from our collective hopes. Maybe the atmosphere aided our butterfliers, backstrokers, and breaststrokers. Or maybe they got some Mojo.
Three girls-Emily Breen, Lisa How, and Rachel Dong-made it into the top eight in the 100 fly. I made it into the 17-24 bracket with a fairly good morning swim. During Christmas training, Rachel Dong had ripped her ACL and several other nasty things in her knee during our Christmas cross-training. She could have just given up and decided that was it for the season, but she forged forth and swam close to her best. Kayce Zemina had injured her knee in the same way, doing the same thing, a year earlier. Rachel said Kayce’s strength inspired her.
I have high hopes because I am finally able to swim butterfly without sharp pain in my right hip flexor, severely limiting my stroke. My problems with right Sacro-iliac Dysfunction started in the fall of last year. My whole pelvic region and down my legs had shooting, burning, and tearing pain. A cortisone shot numbed the pain for the Texas Invitational in November. In December I underwent a series of six shots called prolotherapy during which I had to stop running, limit weight-training, and reduce flip-turns in swim practice. As a result, the pain left my pelvic region and shifted to my back (the Sacro-iliac joints are located in the lower back). My back is weak, but my kick has gradually recovered, and my butterfly has improved. I’m looking forward to finding out how much my swimming benefits.
Katie Ronan had a breakthrough in the 100 back. She hadn’t hit a best time in that event since she was 13. Yesterday she was gloomy because she had just been told she was designated the non-scorer. Each team has a set squad of twenty girls. Any girls beyond that number can compete in prelims, but are not allowed to compete in finals unless there is room, even if they place high. As the one girl not allowed to score, Katie felt as if she didn’t matter, as if all her hard work was not recognized, as if the coaches didn’t believe in her. This is how I felt my freshman year when I was in that position. I had made finals and wasn’t told I was the non-scorer until I walked in that night ready to race. Needless to say, I time-trialed every race after the relays, after the adrenaline of the evening was ebbing, and I swam a best time in three out of four events. The fourth event I was only a tenth off my best, and the closest I had been in three years. I felt as if I held a torch symbolizing triumph in the face of adversity. When Katie swam a best time in her 100 back in prelims, her face lit up as if the swimming world had parted dark waters to let her see the torch. The torch is now hers.
Our breastrokers got in to good scoring positions for the night, but overall we did not end the morning as well as we had hoped.
We entered this evening rearing to go. Andree-Anne LeRoy put on an Indian costume and played the stereotypical Indian while we did the war chant. We cheered loudly and crazily. A Georgia Tech girl wished us luck in the locker-room. She said she wanted to see us win. We like the Georgia Tech girls.
In the water, Laura Kenney swam what Neil called a “gutsy” 400 IM. We had nobody in the top 8 of the 200 free, but Renee Gajda and Loren Hansen put forth tough efforts. Emily, Lisa, and Rachel swam well in the 100 fly, though not as well as they wanted to. I had a poor start, got stuck in waves, had a great first 50, swallowed water on the third length, then tightened up on the fourth. It was another “she died” race. My 100 back didn’t go much better. This is very unusual for me. But for the team, this meet, it is usual. I highlight the good swims, but most were not personal bests. Katie Ronan did keep the torch burning with another best time in her 100 back.
The top bracket (1-8th place) waits in a ready room and walks to the blocks to music, in a line. For the 100 breast, Emma walked as if she owned the pool. Her confidence could be felt across the deck. Lauren told us later that Emma had said in the ready room, “You better get second.” That command was running through Lauren’s head the whole race. Emma won and Lauren second.
We broke into cheering wars for the 400 (4 x 100 of each stroke) medley relay. (The relays – and divers – saved us from dejection this meet.) Andree-Anne hit the wall in fourth after her 100 backstroke. Emma caught up to the front of the race with her 100 breaststroke. We jumped up and down and screamed on the sidelines. Lisa took off even, but, as Neil said, “when Lisa wants something, you better get out of the way.” Laura Kenney started crying with joy. My voice started cracking with the strain. Lisa had the fastest 100 fly split in that race, allowing Emily a small lead to “floor it” (as Loren put it). Emily finished a full second in front of the next team, Virginia. We won, and smashed the pool record.
“If that’s not inspiration, then I don’t know what is,” Loren pronounced.
Saturday, 21 February – Day 4:
Maryland’s team was seated next to us on deck. Their expressions were a 180 from the first three days. They had given up, and their coach knew it. He berated them to no avail. Meanwhile, our team was struggling, but not giving up. Virginia walked in clapping and chanting, “you got to want it to win it, and we want it more.” We thought that was rather bold, but didn’t let it faze us. Every race we gave it our all. I gave it my all in the 100 free, but wasn’t fast enough. I didn’t make it in at night and had to face the fact that that was it, my last race for college swimming. It felt like a vacuum was sucking away my hopes that lay shattered over the pool deck.
We arrived early to cheer and count for the milers. We call the race a mile, though it’s a little short of one – “only” being 1,650 yards instead of 1,760. A spectator would have thought Jennifer Smith and Amy Lo swam lifetime bests. In fact, they were far from it, but their faces were all smiles in testament to our positive style this meet. (And they were glad to have the mile over with).
Before the meet began, the emcee recognized the seniors from each team. We all stood out on the bulkhead (the narrow platform the divides width-wise the middle of the pool), held flowers, and waved to our parents and friends in the stands. I was especially recognized for winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Weaver-James-Corrigan Postgraduate Scholarship. This announcement meant a lot to me because I wasn’t doing well at the meet. It was a way to show my teammates and parents my success.
The divers did well again in the three-meter. Taryn had messed up one dive in the morning that scored her a 1.0 out of 10, but she fought back on each successive dive to finish 11th. Tiffany, Brittany, and Courtney took 1-3. There is no question; Florida State has the best divers in the conference.
Emma won her third individual title in the 200 breast. The 400 (4 x 100) free relay ended the meet with another win. By this time, we expected the win and knew we needed more than that to win overall. But after the race, we all just stood silent. We had won four out of five relays, and got fourth in the other. We had swept the diving. We have the Most Valuable Swimmer (Emma Dutton) and the Most Valuable Diver (Tiffany Manning) of the meet. And yet, we placed third. We were close to second. First was definitely within reach. If only we had swum our times, not even lifetime bests were required. This is what was frustrating. As sad as the team finish, though, was the individual disappointing. Several seniors cried this last day. It was our last meet, and only one senior (Emma) had a fully satisfying meet. Still, we remained classy. Andree-Anne led a typical French celebration song in French. She sang one line, then we croaked the same line with as close to the correct pronunciation as we could. When Virginia was announced the winner we cheered, “UVA! UVA! UVA!” They swam a good meet; they deserved the win. We realized this, but still wanted the win ourselves. As one of my verses went during the night’s banquet dinner:
Sometimes our goals may’ve been hard to see
At times we may’ve felt somewhat empty.
But let’s remember, in the end
The close times we’ve spent with friends
And that there is more than just one way to win.
We are winners. My club coach, who traveled to Virginia to watch this meet, put it best. He wrote afterward:
The Lady Seminoles are winners. Maybe this year only in relays, or only for a few exceptional performances as far as the scoreboard and the watch goes, but in their hearts and spirit, every one of them will find that they learned what it means to be a team and what it means to fight for each other. They have learned how to win, as well as how to lose.
This is a team full of talented, passionate girls. A team that, when things go wrong, doesn’t fall apart. I watched them struggle this meet, having some great triumphs and some great failures. Through it all they just kept coming back and attacking their races. Through it all there was no lack of teamwork. Through the roller coaster ride and the individual disappointments, there were bright shining moments of teamwork that only showed dedication to and pride in each other.
Our persistence, teamwork, dedication, and pride makes us winners. We are proud to be Seminoles. We are proud to wear garnet and gold. FSU should be proud to have such a quality team representing it.
Sunday, 22 February – Travel Day:
Everything is a waxing and waning haze. It’s almost culture shock to return to classes.
Though we seniors may now go our separate ways, we’ll always remember our Seminole days.