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Bring Your Own Sun

Today, May 22, is the second anniversary of The Girl’s accident. I tried to get her to adopt the name Second Chance Day, or Second Chanceiversary or some such thing that sounds positive to refer to it,  but she’s still set on Death Day, a nod to Nearly Headless Nick from Harry Potter.

So. It’s Death Day.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, the short version of the story is that, during a breath holding exercise at synchronized swimming practice two years ago, The Girl passed out under water, essentially drowning. Well-trained, young lifeguards pulled her from the water, performed life-saving CPR, and resuscitated her. Shallow Water Blackout, as such an incident is called, is a particularly sneaky and evil way to drown. Victims don’t even know they are blacking out, so there’s no chance for them to signal or fight back, and the amount of time for resuscitation without brain damage or death is substantially shorter than for traditional drowning victims. For more of our story, or to learn more about Shallow Water Blackout, please see “When Great Swimmers Drown and my follow up, “The Aftermath.”

I’m not super interested in the Facebook memories that will certainly be flooding me over the next few days, but honestly, this year’s anniversary of the day that my most favorite girl was literally less than two minutes away from dying is much better than the last. It took me well over a year to get over the vast majority of the fear that settled in after that experience. Our family’s recovery was complicated by an excessive number of medical visits and tests that stretched past the summer as doctors wanted to be very, very sure that what happened to The Girl was a “simple” case of Shallow Water Blackout and not a far more dangerous medical problem.

It was this delay that ultimately caused her to give up the sport she loved. By the time the doctors declared her able to go back to do a little bit of synchronized swimming training, far too much of the season had passed for her to fit into what was slated to be her best swimming year ever, the one where she was on the top of the age bracket, poised to potentially place at the Junior Olympics. It was her time, finally, after fighting her way up from being the youngest, being the smallest, being the weakest. But, you know, life doesn’t really owe us “our time.” And so it wasn’t to be.

By the time the doctor said “maybe you could swim a little, ease back into it,” The Girl had already mourned her loss and was ready to move on. And I’ve got to tell you, it would have been very, very hard for me to return to sitting by the pool three or four days a week, watching breath holding exercises and feeling that sickness in my stomach, having flashbacks of her body on the pavement with her eyes rolled back in her head. While it was easier to do right away when the doctors hadn’t yet decided that further probing was needed, with the Junior Olympics on the line, and when her team and duet partner needed her, after some time to process things, some parts of the fear actually got a little harder. Time to think is not always your friend.

By the spring of last year, The Girl had dabbled in various activities and found new ways to spend her time, new things to learn. She worked hard at becoming a gymnast, but eventually realized that the bars were not her thing, and the sport of artistic gymnastics cannot be played competitively without a bar routine. But then I found out about a different gymnastics sport called Trampoline and Tumbling. She liked it right off, got on a team, and fought her way off the bottom again, going from a complete newbie to solid placements in Levels 4 and 5 after less than a year. A switch to a new gym kicked everything up a notch, and just under two years from the darkest day in her life, she became Regional Champion on two of the three Trampoline and Tumbling events (and the bronze medalist on the third)! She qualified for nationals and this summer she’ll be once again enjoying comparing her skills against athletes from around the country. And, true to form, she’s one of the youngest in her age group, and probably one of the newer competitors at the event. But that’s okay. She’ll be there, fighting her way back up again, amazing herself with her own accomplishments.

As a parent, I have learned so much from these continued experiences and from the amazing spirit of my daughter. I helped her through the darkest times, and reminded her who she was in the few moments that she might have forgotten, but really, it is she who teaches the majority of the lessons. I’d be foolish not to listen.

The Girl brings her own sun wherever she goes, and with it she brightens her own life as well as lives of others. She makes her own happy, and ultimately she will let nothing take it away from her, not even the very real threat of death.

Bring your own sun, friends. Life is too short to hide away in the dark, waiting for someone else’s light.

iWin