When the moment came I was still tucked in bed fast asleep, warm, safe and dreaming. When the moment came I imagine the sun was just beginning to rise over the horizon to wake the world from its slumber. It’s unclear what exactly happened when the moment came, except that the roads were slick with rain water and the tires, though putting up a fight, had inevitably lost their grip.
Ignorant of the moment that came, I woke up hours later in my hotel room. I jumped out of bed and hurried around the room gathering my belongings and changing into my swim suit. The last day of my swim team’s conference championship meet was upon us and it was time to go.
The team was unaware of the tragedy that had struck as they climbed onto the bus that morning and headed to George Mason University to compete in that final day of swimming. With just one race left to swim the end was in sight, the jitters were present but also welcomed.
The day went. It went by with no complications on behalf of the swimmers. I can only imagine that the air in the stands loomed a still sadness as all of the alumni and parents who had come to watch the team did all they could to fight back tears.
The coaches asked out of respect to the swimmers who had just one day of swimming left, to please not share this devastating news with the athletes until after the meet had ended. Being a former swimmer and devoted friend to all members of the team, it’s what she would have wanted.
Lap after lap, race after race, the team was cheerful and excited with each passing moment. I stood behind the starting blocks just before my last race was to begin and I looked up into the stands. I waved to my parents, who at the time were unaware of the tragedy as well. They waved back at me, with beaming smiles. I don’t remember much of my actual race. I am certain that my adrenalin kicked in and before I knew it I was hitting the wall and gazing up at the scoreboard which read “L. Chinni- 2nd– 2:00.72”. It was a second place finish, it was a best time, and it was a school record.
I got out of the pool and hugged my coaches, hugged my teammates, hugged my friends. Then, tears of joy filled my eyes and streamed down my face. Once the meet ended, I floated up to meet my parents who waited anxiously in the lobby. Our team took pictures together to document the end of our swimming year and then we made our way to the bus for the 6 hour ride home. I kissed my parents goodbye and they looked a way I had never seen them look before. Something twinkled in their eyes and it made me feel like a star. I had everything in the world I could possibly wish for.
It had been over twelve hours since the moment came. Phone calls had been made, people had been alerted, and yet somehow, the team, her team, was still unaware. The meet was over and there was no more time that could be wasted. Bad news travels fast, but this wasn’t bad news, this was earth shattering news and our coaches new that they had little time left to tell us before the news would make its way to us by other means.
I took my place on the bus and began to settle in when a familiar voice came over the bus’s intercom. It was my coach, and something was not right. It didn’t take long for me to catch on to his tone and to realize something bad had happened.
“Hey team, I just wanted to have a moment to speak with you all before we head home tonight to share with you some very sad news. Our former teammate Ryan Young…”
He needn’t say any more words after that because the harsh reality shot through me before he had even moved off of her last name. I truly don’t remember what words followed because whatever they were had been drowned out by my cry. I screamed. I just screamed. The tears that just one hour before had streamed out of my eyes in happiness were now pouring out in total devastation. I couldn’t stop and I wanted to get off the bus. I started to stand up when my teammate and best friend saw me and ran to the back of the bus where I was sitting. She grabbed my arm and we fell into each other.
“Oh Danielle, oh my god Danielle…” I could form these three words and repeated them until the lump in my throat would no longer allow for noise. Together we sat, just simply sobbing. Contained by the four walls of our team bus we had no where to go and nothing to do. I’ve never been to jail, but I can’t imagine it could ever possibly be worse then that bus ride home.
I thought a lot about her during those 6 unforgiving hours. Just one year ago to the day I had wrapped my arms around her, hugged her and we had celebrated the end of my season, and the end of her career, together. I searched for a reason behind this tragedy, this unfair, unjust crime that had occurred. And it was truly a crime, not just to her but to the world that still so desperately needed her. I closed my eyes but can’t remember if I actually slept or just pretended to. The bus came to a slow stop as it pulled onto our campus around 2 a.m. It had done its job of getting us home. It had taken me where I was supposed to go, but I got off unsure of where to go from there and I quickly found that there was no bus waiting to redirect me.
When the moment came she was on her way to work. When the moment came she was right in the middle of becoming herself. When the moment came it was early in the morning and the day played on like any other for me. When my moment came it was late at night, my world changed and would never play on the same ever again.
Always on my mind. Always missing you Ryan Alea Young