Warrior Words: The swirling vortex of terror

My swim coach makes fun of my small handwriting. At 13 years old, my first year in the “senior” ranks of the Wilton Wahoos, each swimmer filled out a goal sheet, questions about what we hoped to achieve during the season.

“What do you hope to improve and accomplish in practice?” It wasn’t a tough question. I weaved, as I still do now, side to side in backstroke as though an invisible hand pushed me on a swing, rocking back and forth. I needed to bend my elbows more in my freestyle, to dive off the blocks with faster reflexes, and to breathe less (even a millisecond to turn your head wastes time). In the two-inch space below the question, I had to shrink my handwriting. The deviously short questions prompted, at least in my head, heaps of answers — really, a step-by-step plan for an ideal swim.

Even within the first month of my senior year of high school, I’ve felt that same impulse to prepare and outline goals; I’ve breathed that air that rings with ticking time. Everything has either been planned out for us or awaits our planning. We’ve shaped the wind patterns and nudged the clouds away to display a doubtless, perfect forecast: a sunny and mild senior year. We wear togas during Spirit Week. We on the Lady Warriors swim team also paint ourselves blue for the pep rally. We have reserved parking and pick our lockers and overflow the Jungle. We plan and apply to colleges to fulfill the dreams and path we’ve carved out in our minds. We go on internship; we wear blue and white gowns and caps.

Like swimming, though, even the most meticulous planning doesn’t guarantee perfection. Sometimes the meteorologists make a mistake, our traditions and privileges are taken away, someone forgets to read the label warning that the blue paint we just smeared all over our faces and limbs is non-washable (Seriously, it happened to the swim team seniors in 2013.)

Sometimes, though, those surprises, the less-than-perfect adherence to the plan, are better than we thought they would be. Finding Nemo, the principal philosophy handbook for all swimmers, offers a great analogy (No, it’s not Dory’s “just keep swimming” song). There’s a scene where Marlin wakes up half-conscious on the back of Crush the sea turtle, whizzing through the East Australian Current. It’s almost time for their exit — in Marlin’s words, “the swirling vortex of terror.” A chipper and somewhat incomprehensible little sea turtle preps them for their departure (“EXIT WITH A BUDDY. DO YOU HAVE YOUR BUDDY?”), and no one understands what he’s trying to say.

Marlin and Dory are shoved into the exit — and they come out alive. In fact, they slide through not a vortex of terror but a water slide, a rush of exhilaration. In fact, they want to go again.

I look forward to my senior year not only because of the planned activities or traditions or the goals I hope to accomplish. I won’t mind if some of my preparation and purpose strays from the path I originally wanted to take. I look forward to the empty void, the swirling vortex of uncertainty, the unexpected celebrations and surprises.


Evaline Xie is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four classmates.