In my defense, I had set foot in Denmark on a Thursday, attended my first practice on Friday, then woken up at 5:30 AM (or 11:30 PM east coast time) to attend the meet. I did so because I'm crazy (still true) and because I believed that everybody expected that I would hit the ground in a full sprint (not true at all). Later I would find out that many of the Danes were quite impressed by my sense of urgency to attend the meet. In Denmark, you are expected to state bluntly what you want in many more situations in the US. So I could have just as easily said "you know what? I'm really tired and don't want to go."
So I found myself, after an hour drive that I barely remember, standing on a pool deck in the remote southern Danish town of Nykøbing Falster. It was the kind of pool that you can find in almost every sizable Danish community: 6-8 lanes, 25m and immaculately clean, with big windows so that you don't feel like you've entered a dungeon torture chamber. See:
And here's me, standing in my bright and shiny new uniform that looks about a size too small and standing next to the big windows:
But this pool had a catch: no electronic timing. That's right- we would be doing this meet entirely with stopwatches, and starting with a real starter's pistol. I have some vague memory of a childhood meet without electronic timing. In any case, just as the meet was about to begin, one team paraded in, wildly banging a drum. Shocked and a little amused, I turned to one of our swimmers and said "looks like we forgot our drum, hah!" as if the idea of a drum in a swim meet must surely be something that any reasonable person finds ridiculous. Imagine my surprise, then when the swimmer turned and pointed to our bench area, where a weathered drum sat, ready to be beaten mercilessly throughout the session.
Now, I try not to give out too much advice in this blog, but here is one very important piece. When flying to another country, crossing six time zones, and then trying to blow right through the time change on your way to a meet, then pondering whether you could possibly inject coffee intravenously for a faster effect, you will probably find yourself battling a headache from the lack of sleep/dehydration from coffee and who knows what else. At this point, you should probably reconsider attending a meet where someone will mercilessly bang a drum not ten feet away from you for hours on end.
Alas, it was too late. Truth be told: the meet was a blast. I had descended on the Danish Team Championships, a magically fun swim meet swimming in a sea of otherwise indistinguishable club swim meets. It's the closest thing Denmark has to a college conference championship meet. I was with our b squad in Division 3, trying to work their way up to Division 2 (which they did). Meanwhile, the A squad was swimming for a championship in "Liga" the top division.
The next day, I would be at the Liga meet, and have the surreal experience of watching a team you "coach", in as much as you can say you coach a team after three days, win a championship. I have never been a part of a championship team in anything higher than a high school conference meet, so it was both exhilarating and awkward at the same time.
All in all, it was a lot to adjust to, but exciting nonetheless. Looking back (it was a week ago now), I really had no idea just how crazy things were about to get. Stay tuned for part two