The B Relay

The B Relay
By Jennie Condon

In swimming (like track), teams have the option at most meets to enter multiple relays in each relay event. Each relay team is lettered, with the A relay being the fastest four swimmers from a given team, the B relay the second fastest, and so on. Big teams at home meets may make it all the way down to the middle of the alphabet, while those of us who are smaller are pretty happy to get to C.

It’s easy to figure that the A relay swimmers are good athletes, routinely at practice, and dedicated to the sport. It’s probably also clear that the C relay is often comprised of beginners, less serious swimmers, and those who have other activities vying for their time. But for my money, the B relay is where the magic happens.

Our fastest swimmers in any age group are usually those who are the oldest in that group, and will soon join an older one where they will have to fight their way up the ladder again, eventually getting onto the last ladder and from there hopping over to college or other post-high school pursuits. These are swimmers who work hard all year round (even when everyone else is taking a break), whose younger teammates invariably look up to them, and who get rewarded regularly with seeing fast times and high placings pop up on the scoreboard.

But those swimmers usually spent a lot of time being not-so-fast on their way up. They were the 11 year-olds wondering how they could ever compete with the seemingly much larger 12 year-olds. They were working quietly away in a slower lane, trying to keep up with their faster teammates in workouts even when it meant getting no rest between repeats. They inspected pages of results, running their fingers down to the middle of the pack to find their names. And they were the ones who showed their teammates that improvement is accessible to anyone, and mapped the course on how to get there. They were the anchors on the B relay, bringing
their whole team up to a higher standard with their hard work.

Swimmers who find the sport easy from a young age often struggle to find their place as they get older and the times get faster. If you get a lot of rewards without much struggle, it’s hard when you get to a point where you really have to work for it. The swimmers who start on the A relay from the beginning can miss the chance to learn early what to do when the going gets tough, and if they stay with the sport the going will, eventually, get very, very tough – as it does for us all at various points along the way. And if they are going to continue to swim and thrive as athletes and teammates, perhaps continuing to achieve star status as they mature, it’s their B relay counterparts who will set the example that shows them the way.

So as we start another swim season and soon another year, let’s hear it for the B relay, in swimming and in life. Let’s respect dedication in the face of adversity, always striving to improve, and helping your teammates achieve more than they thought they could, too. Let’s celebrate being uncelebrated, but just as important to the team. And let’s look at the middle of the pack and remember that they – we – are going places, too.