The morning of February the 22nd was dull and overcast. There was a cool wind and a few spots of rain.
I had been looking forward to that day because it was to be the Hillmorton High School Swimming Sports -a day of colour and competition and noise in the sunshine. But it was not to be. Over breakfast, I listened to the radio, which announced the Swimming Sports was cancelled, except for serious swimmers, who could race at Halswell Pool in the rain.
I wasn’t really a serious swimmer, but I thought I’d have a go. Some builder was plastering the ceiling as I left -the final repairs from the September earthquakes. I biked to Halswell Pool and worried about how cold the air temperature was. There was only one other year nine there, a guy called Chris, who I knew to be a better swimmer than me. He bet me in every single race that morning, but not by much.
So when I dived into the pool at 12:51, I was feeling tired and frustrated, but I thought ‘this might be the one where I beat Chris’. I was in the far outside lane, and as I glided through the water, I saw the centre line of the lane wobble like a snake. I dismissed it. The waves were huge, so swimming forward was really very difficult. I managed to do two lengths before a wave crashed over me, knocking my breath away. I stood up, putting my feet on the bottom and my head out of the water. People were screaming, not to cheer the swimmers on, but in terror as the ground shook. The waves were vast, and people, like me, had stopped swimming and seeing what was going on.
We got out of there pretty quickly. The changing rooms didn’t look too safe, but risked it to get into some dry clothes. Our principal had been buying us hot chips when the earthquake struck, so we crammed them down and piled in cars, back to school.
The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting on the school field, watching the liquefaction spew out of the ground. I had Dad’s mobile, so there was no way to know where or how he was, and Mum had been in Timaru and hadn’t felt it. At about 5pm, Dad and my brother arrived, and we went home together. An hour later, Mum walked in the door: we were all together and safe.
I never did beat Chris…