Friday, July 14, 2017

Nightmare GAGS meet = TAGS times!!!

All year we have known that the GAGS meet (Gulf Age Group Swimming Championships) would be incredibly important for Ella. She had been swimming great and steadily improving, each meet getting closer and closer to her TAGS times.
TAGS stands for Texas Age Group Swimming and it is basically the state championships for 14 and under swimmers. The time cuts to be able to swim in the meet are all right around the AAA US swim times and having a AAA means that you are ranked in the top 6% of swimmers in the country for your age group. When Ella got AA's in every stroke (except backstroke...her nemesis) in early May (AA equates to being in the top 8%), AND only missed the TAGS cut on 200 breaststroke by 0.2 seconds, we knew she was on the right track to accomplish her goal of going to the TAGS meet at the end of July.
GAGS is another meet with qualifying times and very important to so many great swimmers in the area who are trying to get their best times possible before TAGS (which is being held at the University of Texas in Austin). The short course GAGS meet was held at A&M, which has a beautiful pool with tons of seating. To say we were a little disheartened when we found out where the long course GAGS would be this year would be an understatement. At an outdoor pool (in July, in Texas...come on!!!) with basically no seating for spectators and no where but outside for the 650 swimmers to hang out and "keep cool" between races. As an extra bonus it was a prelims/finals meet which meant we got to repeat everything we did in the morning all over again a few hours later :-).
Although I never voiced my concern in front of Ella, I was really, really stressed about her being able to swim the best times of her life at this pool. And then there was the added stress that this was the first meet where she would get to wear her tech suit. I had heard they were hard to put on and that if takes less than 20 minutes, it's too big, but really thought it must be an exaggeration. When we went to the store to buy one they had us try it on to be sure it was the right size and an employee came in to help us. She basically got it on Ella by herself while I watched, afraid I would rip the thing (and they are expensive!) because the material is paper-thin. Ella and I managed to get it off ourselves, but even that was challenging, so I had definite anxiety about helping Ella do this in a locker room full of people. So, this is where my head was at going into this important meet :-).
Mike, Ella and I headed out early Friday morning to get a parking spot in the shade and get Ella circled in for her races. She had 2 Friday, 3 Saturday and 2 Sunday, plus 4 relays. There wasn't going to be a lot of time between races, which was good since we were HOT but also a little tough on the swimmers because they didn't get much time to recuperate between events.
Once we got the tech suit on by ourselves Friday morning for the first time I felt a tremendous amount of relief :-). She started the meet strong with a 3 second drop on 200 IM and a 3 second drop on 200 breast, which meant another AAA and her very first TAGS time!!! After the prelims that morning I think we all breathed a sigh of relief! It was going to be a good weekend :-)!
FRIDAY~prelims
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200 IM
seed time:  2:46.19
this race:  2:43.18 (7th/28)
(lane 1, at top)
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200 Breast
seed time: 3:03.49
this race: 3:00.33 (5th/25), a TAGS and AAA time!
(lane 3, towards top)

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They had their 400 Free relay as well and Ella's split was awesome! A definite AAA time which made us excited for her to swim it again the next weekend for a new official time! I didn't video it since it's a long race, but took some pictures of Ella at the start of her leg instead. It was so cute to see her in a tech suit for the first time :-)!
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FRIDAY~finals
If there was one perk of Gags being at this pool, it was that it was an easy drive from our house. We were able to go home and have about 3 1/2 hours to relax before heading back for finals. We were supposed to have warm-ups at 4:30pm and then the meet was supposed to start at 5:30pm, but not long after the kids all got in the pool to warm-up, there was thunder and they pulled everyone out. We ended up waiting around for the next 2 hours as it thundered on and off, although there was no lightning in the area. There was talk of them cancelling finals and we were all very frustrated. In fact I sent an email to the staff at Gulf Swimming explaining our frustrations (basically saying why are we having the highest level champs meet at an outdoor pool in Texas in July when we know afternoon storms are common while the lower level meets get the indoor pool?! it is the kids at Gags trying to get their TAGS times). Luckily, we were able to get the kids in the pool around 6:40pm for a quick warm-up and start the meet at 7pm. Phew!
My parents were able to come out and we had gotten Ella all pumped up for her 200 IM. She didn't need to worry about 200 Breast because she got her time, so this was it. She was excited and ready to go and she raced HARD. As she was coming in to the end on that last 50 I really thought she was going to miss the TAGs time by a second or two, but she was pushing hard. She touched the wall. I looked at the time on the scoreboard. Surely I was misreading it! It said 2:41.20 and guess what the TAGs time is? 2:41.19. She missed it by one-one hundreth of a second. ONE. Mike was timing her lane and had to help her out of the pool because she was sobbing. It was more heart-breaking than that race at All Stars. Man, I still can't believe it happened! Ella came in to this meet 5 seconds off the 200 IM time though, from a seed time she got just two weeks ago, so she did an amazing job! Literally dropping 4.99 seconds off her time.

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200 IM
seed time: 2:43.18
this race: 2:41.20 (4th place), a AAA time!
(lane 2, near top)

We got her calmed down and back in race mode for the 200 breast final. She added a little from her prelims time, but just a bit and finished 5th in the meet officially.
The weather delays made for a pretty late night so by the time we picked her up some food and got home it was nearly 10pm and we had to be back up at 6am for another big day on Saturday.
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SATURDAY~prelims
And then we were back bright and early :-). We hadn't pre-planned breakfast like we usually do for Ella and she just wanted breakfast tacos at the meet so that was the plan, but then they didn't get their tacos until really late in the morning, so I don't think it was a great start to the day for her to not get some good food in her belly.
The schedule for prelims was PACKED for her!
8:40am - 200 Free Relay
8:54am - 100 Fly
9:12am - 200 Free
9:52am - 100 Breast
10:51am - 200 Medley Relay
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Ella swam an amazing split to start the morning on the 200 Free Relay! 29.95 which is nearly TAGS itself.

And then it was almost immediately time for her 100 Fly. We thought this was a sure bet for TAGs because she was only 0.78 off the cut, but she missed it and was pretty bummed even though she got her AAA time.
100 Fly
seed time 1:13.47
this race: 1:12.96 (2nd/45), a AAA time!
She once again had just a short break and then was right back in line for 200 Free. She looked tired during this race and actually added a teeny bit. When she got out of the pool she was really beating herself up and we had to remind her of how amazing she was doing overall at this meet.
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200 Free
seed time: 2:24.97
this race: 2:25.09
(15th/36...luckily still made the B final so she could swim it again)
We went and rested in the locker room for a bit because it was air conditioned and then it was back out to the heat to line up for Breaststroke. She said she wasn't feeling well and I made her eat a little bit during that time. I really think her empty stomach wasn't helping matters.
The last time Ella swam 100 Breast was in April so we knew she could get this one, but were still worried based on the other races from the morning. As soon as I saw Ella's dive and pull-out on her breaststroke I knew she was going to get it. Her pull-out looked awesome and it was just clear that she was giving it everything she had. She swam amazingly and got the TAGS time by a few seconds!!!
getting ready to race :-)
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100 Breast
seed time: 1:28.00
this meet: 1:23.62 (3rd/44), a TAGS and AAA time!
(lane 7, Katy cap closest to me)

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The morning ended with the medley relay and even though her team got 4th and barely missed a medal, Ella's split on her breast was 38.11! It was a great was to end the morning.

We stopped for MOD pizza, one of Ella's favorites and then came home to rest, relax and get mentally ready to kill it on the 100 Fly at finals!
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SATURDAY~finals
Ella scratched finals on 100 breast to focus on the other two races and hopefully get home and in bed earlier than the previous night. She had two more important races on Sunday so we all decided (with her coach) that it would be best even though she had a chance to medal in it).
Luckily, the weather was on our side this evening and there was not a cloud in the sky! The meet started on time and we were done by 7pm. Ella had two great swims!
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100 Fly
seed time: 1:12.96
this race: 1:12.54, 3rd place, TAGS time!!!
(lane 5, center)

200 Free
seed time: 2:24.97
this race: 2:23.27, AAA time!!! (14th place)
(lane 4, center)

SUNDAY~prelims
Our last early morning! The weather felt a tad bit less humid, Ella only had 2 events and 1 relay and she was rested and ready!
50 Breast
seed time: 40.51
this meet: 38.77 (6th/40), missed TAGS by 0.08
(lane 8, 3rd from right)

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200 Fly
seed time: 2:46.86
this meet: 2:41.11 (1st/18) TAGS time!!!
(lane 9)

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After the 400 Medley Relay we headed home to get some things done and spend some time with Addie and Preston. We took them on a little date to the pie shop and before we knew it we were headed back to the meet for one last time.
We were all super pumped! The only race Ella had to do was 50 Breast (we scratched the 200 fly) and she was ready to get that TAGS time...but then our nightmare truly began. The kids warmed up, the meet got started and all seemed to be moving along well despite dark clouds to the north of us. Ella was just getting ready to go warm up when the thunder started. And went again and again. And then lightning. And then rain. They cleared the pool deck and moved everyone under cover. Mike took all our stuff to the car and we waited more hoping it would blow over like it did Friday night. Unfortunately we were not so lucky this time and 4 hours after leaving our house we were headed back home. I was completely devastated! Not only for Ella but for all the kids. It is SO DUMB that we were at an outdoor pool, blah blah, I won't go into it again. Ella actually handled it a lot better than me and Mike helped me focus on the positives from the weekend...like the fact that Ella got FOUR TAGS times and FIVE more AAA times. Amazing! We are so, so proud of her!
SUNDAY~Finals
(at the time I am writing this, we still don't know what, if anything, the Gulf is planning to do to make this up)
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