By: Sion Ormond & Emily Armstrong

This was it. Eyes squeezed as tight as possible, I clutched the hands of the girls on either side of me until my knuckles were white as the bare walls of the prep room surrounding me. I caught snippets of noise all around, but most of it floated by. Frantic talking from the walkie-talkie on the official’s waist. A team being yelled at in a language I didn’t know. A last minute reminder to give it our all from my coach. It was all insignificant at this moment. I took a deep breath, a shudder passing though me from my head to my toes. Calm, breathe, I’m ready, I repeated to myself over and over. Opening my eyes, I looked around at the ring of 10 girls who came from all across Canada, my team. The girls that I had spent the last few months living with, eating with, and breathing with. This was our moment. This was Junior Worlds 2016.

Russia was swimming before us, through the heavy, white doors ahead. In their home country, they had the crowds hyped to the max, and although we couldn’t see them, we could hear the muffled roaring of their huge pack of fans from all around us. In a few minutes, those hundreds of pairs of eyes would be on us. My stomach twisted, and I bent down, gasping for a breath. All I wanted to skip the next 7 minutes, not have to go through the anxiety filled anticipation period that caused shivers to wrack my body, that made me want to vomit all over the white tiles of the floor below me. With each second that brought me closer to the biggest, most exciting moment of my life, the clammier my hands got, the more butterflies flittered around my stomach.

“Come!” the official in the prep room called to us with a heavy accent as she ushered us over to the doors. I fumbled for my water bottle, my last opportunity to chug back as much as I could. Breathing slowly, calmly, I wandered over to my team, before turning around and snatching up the plastic bottle again. Tilting my head back, I squeezed, letting the sharp, cool water hit my face and drizzle down my body, shocking me out of the worried stage I was in. The team gathered together before the door, shaking out limbs, creating a blob of determination and excitement, matching the energy from the unseen crowd. And just like that, the bulky doors were pulled open, removing the final obstacle between the pool and us.

We were hit with an overwhelming sound of yells and cheers, with the blue glow that radiated from every section of the pool deck, with the strong, familiar stench of chlorine. Up high on the opposite wall, our faces filled the jumbo screen, our flawless makeup looking beautiful; our hair gelled back into a slick bun with not one flyaway. All attention was on us now. We were doing everything we could not to fidget. A deep, booming voice announced us as Team Canada. There it was. No time to think about anything else. Chins snapped up, shoulders pulled into perfect posture, we began a march that was practiced a million exhausting times, exactly timed, no one missing a beat. A rush of adrenaline coursed through me. Huge, glowing smiles took over our faces as we stared into the judges eyes, convincing them we were the most confident people on this deck right now, that we loved every moment of this, hiding from them all the nerves that were taking over our bodies at that moment.

There was nothing we could have possibly done to make us more prepared for this moment, yet no matter how ready we were, it was never going to take away the butterflies. Making the national team and having the opportunity to compete at Junior Worlds was easily one of the biggest, most exciting things we have ever been a part of. Although it took a ton of hard work and tough decisions to get there, from missing half a semester of school, training 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, and living far from home, the experience at the end was worth every moment. It reminded us why we loved swimming so much, why we came back to the pool and gave our all each day, so we could build friendships that would last a lifetime, learn the most valuable skills, and have the chance to have unforgettable experiences like these.