Sometime around 9 tonight, Rebecca Davis will climb out of the swimming pool for the final time with the Dalton Carpet Capital Aquatic Club. It will mark the end of a 12-year career as a competitive swimmer for the 18-year-old, who is soon headed off to begin the next phase of her life as a student at Georgia Southern University.
In many ways Davis' story is like that of dozens of swimmers competing in this weekend's Chattanooga Area Swim League City Meet at the Arlene Crye Pool at Fort Oglethorpe's Gilbert Stephenson Park. In many ways it's quite different.
"It was my life for a really long time, and I dedicated myself to it," said Davis, who was captain of the girls' team at Dalton High School the last three years. "I will never regret getting into it and not doing other things."
Davis and the Dolphins lead after the first day with 1,056 points, with Ooltewah in second at 914, Stuart Heights in third with 793 and Signal Mountain, going for a sixth consecutive title, in fourth with 621.
The daughter of a former member of the Russian national team, Davis took naturally to the water -- despite her mother's efforts to lead her to more "girlie sports" -- and was nationally ranked by age 10. However, a broken wrist at 13 led to several surgeries and a year away from the sport. She has a six-inch scar and a metal rod in her arm as a constant reminder.
When she returned to the pool, she couldn't rediscover the speed that once came easily.
"I begged the doctor for a waterproof cast, so once I got it I was back in the water at 14," she recalled. "It hurt, but I stuck with it and I couldn't wait to get back. It really set me back swimming, though, and I couldn't get back to where I used to be."
Olga Davis, who learned to swim in St. Petersburg, Russia, after nearly drowning at age 4 when she fell into a lake, also saw the positive effect the physical setback had on her daughter.
"In life, any kind of factors can create those barriers that keep you from doing what you want to do," she said. "Just like with Rebecca, she had those injuries one after another, and I thought she would quit. Her last surgery took her such a long time to recover, but she stayed with it."
Olga laughs at her early attempts to get Rebecca interested in ballet.
"When everybody went one way, she went the other," the mom said. "I guess there's something in our genes that leads us to the water.
"I did not want her to be a competitive swimmer because, honestly, it's a very difficult sport. But when she turned 8 she started swimming with this club, and she was doing so well that she stayed with it. In a lot of ways this swim club has become our family."
So though Davis' competitive career will end tonight and as she heads to Statesboro to study graphic design, she takes with her the friendships gathered from years in the pool and the lessons learned from success and heartbreak.
"Most of the friends I've made have been through swimming, and it's neat to have so many friends from all over," she said before trying to sum up her final weekend of competitive swimming. "I don't like thinking about it, because I know I will be sad. It's been a really good season, through high school and everything. I'm just happy it's ending so well."
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...