Jen knows what she needs to help her team win the swimming relay.

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Would Jen let her team down?Jen climbed out of the pool and adjusted the straps of her racing suit. In a few minutes, the city’s junior swim league championships would begin. Jen and her teammates, Dana, Amy and Shanti, had qualified to compete in the two-hundred-meter medley relay.

From across the pool, Jen met Amy’s glare. Leave it to her, Jen thought, to see all the turns I missed. Amy, who never makes mistakes—or never admits making them, anyway. Sighing, Jen crossed the pool deck with her shoulders slumped.

“I watched you warming up,” Amy said, throwing her towel down on a bench. “How are we going to win when you can’t hit even one turn?”

“I’m nervous. I’ve never swum in a championship meet before,” Jen said. She sank down on the bench. “Every turn, I’m either too close to the wall or too far. I keep losing my count.”

Amy looked at Dana. “Well, what can you expect when a puny third-grader gets to swim backstroke for us?”

“I expect to win,” Shanti said, stepping between Amy and Jen. “Let’s go.” She waved the lane card Coach had given her. “We’re the first event. Lane three.”

The four teammates walked to the starting blocks.

“Don’t let them bother you,” Shanti whispered to Jen. “So what if the rest of us are in fourth grade and you’re not. You know you can do it.”

"You know you can do it."“Sure I can,” Jen said, sounding more confident than she felt. With all the turns she had missed in the warm-up, she was beginning to think Amy was right. Maybe she didn’t belong on the swim club’s best medley relay team.

At lane three, Shanti handed the head timer their lane card. The girls lined up behind the starting block in the order they would swim—Jen, Dana, Amy, Shanti. Backstroke. Breaststroke. Butterfly. Freestyle.

Jen stretched her arms over her head and shook her legs. Drops of water flew off her wet skin. She wished she could shake off her doubts as easily. She looked up at the flags strung over the pool, near the ends of the lanes. A backstroker used these flags to judge how close to the wall she was.

Jen knew what she had to do once the flags were directly overhead: count six strokes, roll over, and flip, as if she were doing a somersault underwater. If she had counted right, she would be in the right place to push firmly off the wall. Roll, flip, push. Concentrate and count, she told herself. Six strokes to turn. Seven to finish.

The official announced their event. “Girls, ages nine and ten, two-hundred-meter medley relay.”

Jen turned to her teammates, ready to give a high-five. “Swim to win!” she shouted.

Dana and Amy stood with their hands on their hips. “Just make your turn,” Amy said.

“Come on,” Shanti said, “we’re a team.” Amy and Dana ignored her. Shanti reached over them to slap Jen’s palm. “Swim to win!” she shouted.

“Backstrokers in the water,” the official called.

Jen checked her cap and goggles, then jumped into the cool water. She surfaced and saw Shanti peering over the starting block.

“Remember to count, Jen,” she said. “You know you can do it.”

“Swimmers, take your mark,” the official called.

Jen grabbed the bar under the block and crouched into her starting position. Seconds later, the buzzer sounded. She reached back and pushed hard off the wall of the pool.

Gliding under the first set of flags, Jen kicked fast and began her stroke. Her arms felt strong as she pulled them through the water. Approaching the middle of the pool, she passed the swimmer in the next lane and took the lead.

As she stroked, Jen tried to picture herself making a perfect turn, but all she could see was Amy and Dana scowling at her. A big splash hit her face. The swimmer in the next lane passed her.Count and concentrate, she told herself.

No, Jen thought. Swim to win! She kicked harder, gaining on the swimmer again. Count and concentrate, she told herself. Six strokes to turn. Remember what Shanti said. . . .

The flags were overhead.


Roll. Flip. She pushed hard off the wall.

Gliding under the flags again, she could see her opponent just starting to push off the wall. Jen’s heart pounded with excitement. She had taken back the lead on the turn.

Jen began her stroke again. Another splash hit her face. Blowing water out of her mouth, she saw her opponent moving ahead again. Jen kicked faster, matching her stroke to her new pace. She heard the muffled cheers of the crowd. Breathing hard, she glanced right, then left. No other swimmers were in sight. No one had passed her. This leg of the race was hers.

Flags appeared overhead. Seven strokes to finish, she thought.


She touched the wall. Dana dived over her, while the other teams still waited on the blocks for their backstrokers to finish.

Jen climbed out of the pool.

“Wow, what a lead,” Amy said, as she put on her goggles. “I hope I can keep it going.”

Shanti tapped Jen’s shoulder. “Great swim,” she said.

“Thanks. All I needed was one good turn.”

Together the three teammates watched Dana swim. They cheered her on with the best six words Jen had heard that day.

“You know you can do it.”