This was the first year my youngest son competed in winter swim meets and ramped up his year-round training. The goal was a redemptive return to the Montgomery County Swim League’s (MCSL) All-Star meet held each July.

He had qualified for this meet the previous summer but completely tanked the day of. He had been seeded last and came in last at the meet, so he really just did what we was supposed to do.

He did not see it that way.

So he worked. All winter he toiled in the pool, through dryland workouts and marathon weekend meets. When the summer swim season began, he was ready.

He earned All-Star times in two strokes the very first meet and aimed to improve upon those each week. We were slaves to the stop watch. I think spending the better part of a year focused on improving had given us tunnel vision.

Dozens of swimmers in every age group achieve All-Star times each Saturday, but the trick is to keep dropping time so you earn azz spot in the top 16 of all those that have qualifying times. He was not significantly cutting his time and sometimes even swam more slowly. He was exasperated by the lack of progress so we took the extra step of adding stroke instruction from a specialist to his routine.

I admit, there were days when I felt like the worst example of an overwrought swim mom, which typically is not my style. I wanted it for him because he had put in the work and dedication for so long.

All-Star weekend was drawing closer as my son started to complain about pain in his foot. It seemed he had a blister on the bottom of his foot. With three boys, my sympathy gene has taken a hit. Someone is always hurt, limping or bleeding, so I pretty much ignored his complaints.

At the last regular Saturday meet, he showed me that his right foot was swollen and red. It wasn’t horribly swollen, just noticeably so if you compared both his feet side by side.

He woke up Sunday morning and insisted on going to help with the swim team’s Mini-Meet for the u8 swimmers at a nearby pool. I gave him a hard time because he is not a CIT or a coach and he needed to rest that foot. But he insisted.

When he arrived home, his foot was tremendously swollen and had what looked like a plantar wart just under his toes. We put his foot up and kept an eye on it. The “wart” was changing every hour, getting larger with the black spots in the center getting darker. I snapped a pic and sent it to a nurse friend, and she advised an appointment ASAP.

The minute the doctor looked at his foot Monday morning, I knew we were in trouble. He lanced it and confirmed that it was a bad infection. He sent us home with instructions to soak it in hot water and Epsom salts 20 minutes of every hour.

Basically, my life came to a crashing halt as I filled, emptied and refilled that pan so we could make him better. He was trapped on the couch and in a lot of pain. The plan was to get the sore to drain as much as possible before our appointment on Tuesday.

Of course, this turn of events put his entire swim season in jeopardy. We emailed his coach and let her know about his injury. He was slated to swim several events in the Divisional Meet the following Saturday. This meet determines the winner of each Division and he was seeded to win at least one of his events and was crucial to the team’s point total.

At Tuesday’s appointment, the week went into a tailspin. The doctor told us immediately that my son would need surgery to remove the infection and he tried to get an OR that very afternoon. Unsuccessful, the doctor scheduled surgery for first thing Wednesday morning.

He came through it fine but returned home with a mountain of packing and some good drugs for pain. We had already delivered the bad news that he would miss the Divisional and All-Star meets so there was nothing to do but take antibiotics to kill what turned out to be MRSA and heal.

But my son and the team didn’t see it that way. He had gone to the pool to tell his coaches in person that he was having surgery and to cheer the Divisional swimmers on at practice. The evening of his surgery, team members came over and hung out to cheer him on. He was even given a custom sign like all the other Divisional swimmers even though he was unable to compete.

In a significant amount of pain, he refused to entertain the idea of not attending Divisionals. Once there, he led team cheers, pumped up his teammates and was all in—even on crutches. If he was disappointed about not meeting his personal goals, one would never have known it.

It seems that life decided to teach us a lesson about what is important about summer swim and sports in general. Once we lost the ability to focus on times and winning, my son saw the opportunity to contribute to the team in other ways and no one cared that he wasn’t number one.

He was lauded at the team banquet as not only the most improved swimmer in his age group but also with the Coach’s Award for his intangible contributions to the team. Out of the water, my son had improved himself in ways he never could have through competition.

We are so thankful to the Lionfish parents, swimmers and coaches for that valuable lesson and all of the support given to him this season, both in and out of the pool.