Sunday, December 8, 2019

Four Days for 65 Seconds in Atlanta

We're back from the U.S. Open in Atlanta and it was SUCH a great trip!

We flew out Wednesday afternoon after the most insane two days of work I've ever had at the SEC. And due to a paint/carpet remodel project, those days were done from my kitchen table, frantically answering emails and forwarded phone calls and completely ignoring my bulldog. On Tuesday I sat down at 7:25 a.m. in my pjs thinking I'd knock out a few emails and then get dressed and continue and at 4:30 p.m. when my friend dropped off my children I was unable to pick up because I couldn't move from my increasingly uncomfortable kitchen chair, I was still in those pj's having not moved in 9 hours. I no longer have the gluteal endurance for a day like that. I raced off to teach my barre class and then went to the always wonderful TCU tree lighting, something I will blog about later, but the set up is that I started packing at 10 p.m. that Tuesday night while intermittently fielding work emails on my phone.

But then we were on the plane and all was well, mostly because I didn't pay for in-flight WiFi (side note: Landon calls WiFi "weefee" and it is a delight each time he says it). We sat towards the back because the kids insist that they all sit together and a mid-B boarding number on Southwest makes that a little challenging. But there we were! En route to the U.S. Open!

We landed, journeyed 1,000 miles to get our rental car (yet somehow stayed within the Atlanta Airport), and drove to my aunt and uncle's house where a delicious dinner and 3 comfortable guest rooms were waiting for us. James and the kids went to bed quickly while my aunt and I stayed up way too late chatting, a theme of the weekend I'm feeling but not at all regretting now.

On Thursday morning James got up to shave and then head to the pool for a time trial. I knew he was done because I heard the girls exclaiming from a story above, "Mom! Mom! You've got to see daddy! He looks SO YOUNG! Like when you got MARRIED! MOM!!!"

My middle-aged self and this young thing I picked up

It really freaked them out. I kissed James good luck (he would be staying in a hotel downtown that night) and set out with my aunt to give her a tour of all my favorite things in Costco. A new one had recently opened up near them and friends had given James and me a tour when we joined and I still remember it (thanks Ozs!). I showed her all the things while the kids played in the Christmas aisles and then we got lunch in the food court. So, already the perfect vacation. Then my uncle came home from work and took us on a beautiful hike in their neighborhood.

We traveled by golf cart, which is a thing you do in Peachtree City.

Landon was allowed to drive and use the pedals, which was a nice preview for the Driver's Ed he'll be taking in 2.5 years.

We hiked along the stream that leads to the beautiful little lake my aunt and uncle's house looks out on.

It was a gorgeous day and of course my children immediately took off their shoes and socks to wade into the frigid water.

Along the way, Landon fell hard enough jumping among boulders that I thought he'd broken his hip; Cora fell in the freezing water; and Claire had her feelings hurt by something I don't remember that involved Landon. But overall, a successful hike! Capped off by burgers and hot dogs on the Big Green Egg and extremely tasty margaritas.

The next morning was Friday: the main event. We were up early and in our matching t-shirts to head to the Georgia Tech pool. Home of the 1996 Olympic Games and also where my cousin Alyssa went to college, we arrived right on time to watch the A flight compete: Ryan Lochte, Katie Ledecky, Lily King... Olympic gold medalists and World Record holders, it was just amazing. We also quickly became famous in our bright blue shirts and we never had to show our tickets each time we left the competition area to check out the lobby and swim shop.

My cousin arrived with her 11-month-old baby Lorelei. Upon spying the baby Landon immediately leapt over a row of seats in order to hold her.

We took a lunch break at the student union and it was great to walk in non-chlorinated air and see some of campus.

Then we were back in our seats and James was set to swim in about 30 minutes! We waved to him in the insanity of the warm-up pool and watched him stretch behind the blocks. We were so excited we were almost getting nervous. Friends and family were texting like crazy. The event was live-streamed on the USA Swimming website and friends and family were frozen, sitting in parking lots and at their desks ready to watch. Claire's 3rd grade teacher and choir teacher pulled it up on the classroom screen so the kids could cheer on "Claire's dad." Landon could barely stand it, he knew James's goal time and was deeply emotionally engaged in him reaching it. As my uncle kept repeating, "this is just so exciting!"

And it was. I've watched a lot of races and I've competed in some really big meets (including the 1998 U.S. Open where a young James also competed in the same event, though we wouldn't meet until 3 years later) and none of them compares to how I felt watching my husband step up to the blocks for his 100 breaststroke, with our three kids in front of me, so excited and nervous and thrilled to see him below.

He waved at us as he got ready to step up and our whole section cheered. Everyone is Team Dad.

They took off. He's in Lane 6.

He looked great- so strong and fast and you guys, my hands were shaking and I was tearing up. My aunt, uncle, cousin, and kids were screaming. It was just amazing.

He was 3rd at the turn and 5th at the finish.

He had just made the qualifying time (which required him going 0.01 off his lifetime best his regular 25-yard pool; the U.S. Open was swum in a 50-meter pool and I can't even tell you how different that is) but of course his goal was to drop more. He didn't and I know he was disappointed. But he was the oldest person entered in the meet and I was (and am!) still genuinely astounded he'd gone the time he did and being there was an incredible coup I still can't quite believe he pulled off.

It was such a special thing to see, made even more special by having extra family there to scream with me.

Still buzzed from the excitement of the race, we watched a few more heats and waited for James to change. We headed back home, now with James back in tow, where I cooked a big dinner in my aunt's kitchen and my kids made sure Lorelei understood all the features of her toys they kept trying to smother her with. My cousin stayed the night with the baby my children had now adopted and again, the ladies stayed up WAY too late chatting and drinking Poinsettias and it was marvelous.

Saturday was our last day and we woke up with plenty of time to play with Lorelei and ensure that 3 big kids were always available to assist her every need.

We decided to hike up Stone Mountain, something I hadn't done since I was little and James and the kids had never seen. We'd head straight to the airport from there so we packed up and hunted down an old harmonica Cora had adopted and then promptly lost.

Stone Mountain was great! I wasn't quite prepared for the vertical climb and am sore in very strange places today, but it was gorgeous outside with perfect cool weather and we worked up a SWEAT climbing up the largest exposed piece of granite in the world (did you know only 30% of it is exposed and the whole granite piece extends at least 7 more miles underground? I do!).

My cousin joined us for the climb up while my aunt and uncle took Lorelei on the sky tram. We huffed and puffed but maintained steady conversation the entire way anyway. Alyssa was my first cousin on my mom's side and was born when I was 8. The 8 years matters a lot less now.

The kids basically sprinted the whole way up and then collapsed when they reached the summit.

Then they found the only water puddle on the giant granite mountaintop and promptly jumped on rocks in it.

Lorelei had beaten us to the top but was still happen to pose for a picture with the slow pokes.

It was a great day and a GREAT trip.

I'm so thankful we were able to be there and that we had my aunt and uncle to be such gracious hosts who made our stay so comfortable and easy (and affordable!). I'm SO thankful that our kids got to see James compete at such a high level and for friends and family who love us and were watching with us from all over the country. And though we got home at 11 p.m. last night to a giant stack of boxes, a long to do list, and an overflowing work inbox, I'm just so profoundly grateful we were able to be there. Those 65 seconds of James's 100 breaststroke, and the cheers and love coming from our crew, are something I will simply never forget.


  1. I loved this so much! I grew up swimming and climbing Stone Mountain, so I felt allll that excitement. What a great race recap from the spectator's perspective!

  2. well done james!!!
    FYI, landon seems to have a french accent ��
    signed : blandine, from paris

  3. Way to go James!! On an unrelated note, I'd love to hear your favorite things at Costco too!

  4. Wonderful job to James - I was so nervous reading your description of the race I can only imagine how nerve wracking it must've been for ya'll!

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  6. Very cool about how fast James has gotten! My husband is convinced that the ill conceived of training plans requiring huge amounts of yardage, limited dry land, and lack of sufficient recovery that were popular in the 80s and 90s explain why old people (haha) have been able to drop so much time as adults. On one hand, think of all the burnout and squandered talent, but on the other hand, so cool that people are coming back to the sport with so much success later on in life. Go him!

  7. I teared up reading this--you are a great storyteller!