Jacket around his shoulders, Mike turned up his music, Trent Reznor screaming in his headphones. He kept his eyes closed, lost himself in his music, in the beat and in the growl of the guitars.
Nothing mattered right now.
Not the meet.
Not the crowd.
Not the heat or the water or the competition.
It was just him and music and being loose, being ready, being relaxed, just like Coach had taught him. Breathing and music, and that was it.
Large, warm hands landed on his shoulders, massaging.
Mike leaned his head forward. Four races this morning, and his times were good. Better than good, maybe. Better enough that people were starting to notice, starting to talk.
"Stop thinking, Mike." The low growl penetrated the music.
"Huh?" God, how did the man know? "Sorry, Coach."
"Just forget about the big picture, kid. Stay in your body. Stay in the water and swim your race. Everything else'll still be there when you hit that wall."
He nodded. That's right. Him and the water and the wall. That was it.
"That's it. Nice and loose." Coach's hands worked their magic, making sure there wasn't an ounce of tension in him.
The bell rang and he stood, stripped off his jacket and baggy shorts, handing his CD player back without looking. He was in lane four, his favorite lane. "Going to win all four, Coach, and you're taking me for steak."
"The wall, kid. Focus on the wall."
"You know it." He looked back at his coach, nodded. The man was a hardass, but what he wouldn't give for the growly son of a bitch. "I'm up."
Mike settled his goggles and stepped onto the starting block. Four hundred meter freestyle. Let's go.
The buzzer sounded and he was off, slicing through the water, focusing on the wall.