Smooth For The Swim Meet
Ashley tossed her kickboard onto the pool deck. She tugged the swim cap off her head, and plunged beneath the water’s surface to let the water gently ripple through her shoulder-length brown hair, which had been trapped inside the latex cap for more than two hours. Having just completed a 6,000-yard workout, Ashley’s shoulders were fatigued as she lifted herself out of the pool. She dropped her swimming equipment into a mesh bag, and sighed softly as she slung the bag over her shoulder. Her team would begin tapering its yardage the next day for the upcoming conference championship. Ashley was looking forward to the competition; her goal was to avenge a narrow loss to a rival from another school.
“Way to hold tough on that butterfly set, Ash!” a voice shouted from across the cavernous natatorium. It was Ashley’s teammate Becky. “Our relay’s gonna kick some serious ass in a couple weeks!” Becky was the top sprinter at Midwest University; she and Ashley made up the second half of a medley relay team that was on a torrid pace to break the conference record. Ashley was herself on track to break the conference record in the 200-yard butterfly, but a strong rival stood in her way.
“Hey, thanks Beck,” Ashley replied, breaking into a pained jog to meet up with Becky at the locker room. “I feel pretty good. I think my timing’s just right too. I just want so badly to beat O’Donnell!”
“The girl from Great Lakes State?” Becky asked. “She seemed a little off-pace all season, but you know, she always gets up for those big meets.”
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This was true. At the previous year’s conference meet, O’Donnell had just barely defeated Ashley in the 200-yard butterfly. Ashley’s disappointment carried over to the medley relay, where O’Donnell again edged her out, securing a win for Great Lakes State.
“She really does get fired up for conference,” Ashley said, plopping herself down on a wooden bench in the locker room. “That’s why I want to have a good taper.” Tapering involves a combination of reduced yardage, rest, and shaving the body immediately before the meet to expose fresh follicles to the water’s surface. Female swimmers often stop shaving their legs during the season, so they feel even faster by razoring the growth away for the taper meet. In addition to shaving the rest of the body, many male swimmers also shave their heads. The effect of ‘shaving down’ is as much psychological as it is aerodynamic.
“This leg hair is getting thick, huh?” Becky chuckled, examining her left shin. “It’s grown a lot since the beginning of the season.”
“Yeah, Beck,” Ashley said, grinning. “What does Jay think, having a girlfriend with thicker leg hair than he has?!”
“Oh, be quiet,” Becky said. “He understands it comes with the territory, dating a swimmer. You know, that reminds me. If you really want to beat O’Donnell, I’ve got a suggestion. You could do what the guys do.”
“What do you mean, get plastered the night before the meet? That’s never done more than leave them with a hangover.”
“No, I mean you could shave your head,” Becky said, toweling dry her long wavy dark mane.
“SHAVE MY HEAD?” Ashley shrieked. “You mean, like, bald? Jeez, Beck, isn’t that a little extreme?” Ashley asked. “I’ve seen some guys shave their heads for swimming, but I’ve never seen a girl do it. That’s what caps are for.”
“Yeah, I know, but think about that sensation of the water on your skin the first time you dive in after shaving the rest of your body. Now imagine that feeling on your HEAD! I swam with a girl in high school who went bald for the state meet. She dropped her time by four seconds and felt terrific. And she looked pretty good without any hair.”
Ashley was silent as she and Becky finished dressing and left the athletic complex. “I don’t know about shaving my head, Beck. It would be a big change, and I kind of like my long hair. I mean, I’ve worn it this way my whole life. It would take so long to grow back,” she said, touching her brown ponytail gently. “Oh well, I guess I’ve still got a couple weeks to think about it. See ya tomorrow!”
“Take care, Ash!” Their two cars headed off into the darkness.
The team worked hard the next ten days, swimming fewer yards during each workout, and focusing more on speed and timing. The medley relay was looking terrific; all four members were in synch.
“Ladies, we’ve got two days left, and the next 48 hours are crucial,” the coach announced during practice the following Thursday. “Get lots of sleep, eat sensibly, and remember to drink lots of water so you won’t become dehydrated. We look really strong; you all have trained with a goal in mind. Now let’s shock the world on Saturday!”
As they headed home that night, Ashley and Becky were discussing their breaststroke-to-butterfly relay exchange for the conference meet when Ashley suddenly changed the subject.
“By the way, Beck, I’ve decided to do it. Beating O’Donnell would be worth losing my hair,” Ashley said, her voice shaking a bit.
“What do you mean? Oh – really? You’re gonna shave your head?”
“Yeah, I mean, as much as I’ll miss it, it’s only hair; it’ll grow back. Eventually. Besides, how many chances to you get to win conference, and to beat O’Donnell?”
“Good for you!” Becky said. “You know what, I think I’ll do it too. We all should! We’ll swim faster, plus we’ll look awesome with shaved heads. Trust me. It would be a great team-builder. Let’s see who else is willing to do it!”
They agreed to contact Lisa and Erin, the other two members of the medley relay squad, to see what they thought about sacrificing their hair for the team. Surprisingly, both girls thought going bald was a great idea.
Lisa, who would lead off the relay, swimming backstroke, had short hair to begin with. It was blond, and she kept it trimmed to just below the ears. Her friends told her she resembled the actress Cameron Diaz. Erin, the breaststroke swimmer, had straight dark hair that she usually wore in a ponytail or under a hat. Being in the chlorinated pool almost three hours a day-one hour in the morning and two hours at night-made low-maintenance hair care a way of life for the swimmers. Like Erin, the majority of the girls simply pulled their locks into a ponytail or wore a baseball cap.
On Friday night, the evening before the meet, the four ladies arrived at Becky’s apartment near campus. Becky had prepared a huge pot of spaghetti and fresh garlic bread. The girls ate heartily, loading up on carbohydrates that would provide energy during the next day’s conference championship.
After dinner, Becky stood up and announced: “Okay guys, the moment of truth is at hand! The sacrifice we make tonight will spell victory in the water tomorrow!” Becky had a flair for the dramatic. As the team captain, she often used such rhetoric to motivate her fellow swimmers. She hurried down the hall to the bathroom, and emerged with a hair clipper, a can of shaving cream, and several razors.
Lisa, Erin, and Ashley spread an old bedsheet on the floor in the middle of the living room, dragged a patio chair inside from the balcony and set it on the sheet.
Each girl had brought a hat with her, to wear after having her head shaved. They wanted to keep their baldness a secret until they stepped to the starting blocks the next day. The four girls felt that surprising the opposition immediately before a race by appearing with smoothly shaven heads would give them a psychological advantage. The shock value alone would be worth a few seconds.
“Ash, you still wanna go first?” Becky asked, plugging the clippers into the wall outlet. “That’s what you said yesterday.”
“Yep, let’s lose this mop!” Ashley said, her voice rising with anticipation. “I shaved my legs and arms this afternoon; I can’t wait to feel that same smoothness on my head.”
She removed her white baseball cap and glasses, and pulled her blue sweatshirt over her head, tousling her brown hair. She sat down in the patio chair, smoothed out her T-shirt, and pushed her shoulder-length hair off her face and out of her mouth. “Guess I won’t have that problem to worry about for a while!” she said, laughing. “Let’s get this started.”
“Okay, hold still,” Becky said. She did not attach a guard to the clippers, opting instead to begin at the ‘zero’ setting. The change in Ashley’s appearance would be dramatic. Becky turned on the clippers, and their low humming sound echoed off the apartment’s walls. “Hey Ash, I didn’t even ask, do you want a mirror so you can see what I’m doing?”
“No,” Ashley replied, “I kind of like surprises. I won’t look until you’re done.”
Becky placed the clippers flush with Ashley’s hairline, and began moving them back toward the top of her head. The humming sound became a bit muffled as the clippers worked their way through the hair, leaving a strip of skin in their wake. Becky stripped away two more rows of hair, and Ashley now had a four-inch wide bare spot on the top of her head. She could already feel the cool air from the nearby open window tickling the tiny hairs. Ashley’s heart began to race.
Becky continued, holding the clippers against Ashley’s right cheek, next to her ear, and moving slowly up toward the top of her head. She did the same with the left side of Ashley’s head.
As she watched the nearly 20-inch-long sheets of hair fall to the floor, Ashley sat silently, wondering what she looked like. She feared that she would begin to cry. Was she really going through with this? At any rate, it was too late to turn back now.
The shaven front of her head felt cool, but the back felt heavy, weighed down by her long brown hair. That quickly changed, as Becky ran the clippers up the back of her head, severing the locks, which fell past Ashley’s white T-shirt and onto the sheet.
Becky clippered away the remaining hair behind Ashley’s ears, leaving her friend with a round bluish-gray head.
“Wow, Ash, you look like Demi Moore in that G.I. Jane movie!” exclaimed Erin, whose own dark brown hair hung in a braid. “That’s so cool!”
Ashley glanced over at Erin, and smiled weakly. It was cool, all right. Her head was downright cold. To make matters worse, she could feel Erin and Lisa staring at her buzzed head, and realized that everyone she met in public from now on would be staring.
Suddenly Ashley felt another sensation on her head, and looked up to see Becky spreading shaving cream over her scalp.
“You know how great it feels to have your legs smooth?” Becky said, eyes wide as she began. “That’s what your head’s gonna feel like in a couple seconds!”
Becky picked up one of the razors, and delicately scraped away the shaving cream from the front of Ashley’s head. Eyes wide open, Lisa gasped softly as she saw Ashley’s hairline disappearing. Becky continued, working toward the top of Ashley’s head as she had done with the clippers. She continued to the sides and back, scraping away the cream-and the stubble-from Ashley’s head until the powerful young swimmer was completely bald.
Erin and Lisa, sitting on a nearby sofa, noticed how Ashley’s bare pate reflected the light from the ceiling lamp, and glanced at each other nervously.
“Okay, Ash, take a look,” Becky said, handing Ashley her glasses and presenting a small hand-held mirror. Ashley put on her glasses, noticing how loosely they now fit. She took a deep breath and blinked slowly before looking into the mirror. At first, she didn’t recognize her own reflection. Hey brown eyes looked so big! Ashley tilted her head from left to right, examining the sides and top of her freshly shaved head.
She put her hand on top of her head, and was surprised by how the skin’s soft texture, though it felt stretched taut over her skull. Her head felt so round and smooth, like the latex swim cap she wore in the pool. Ashley recalled in her mind how, when she would remove her cap after a workout, her wet hair would cascade over her shoulders. “This is like a swim cap that you can’t take off,” Ashley observed, massaging the spot above her forehead where her hairline used to be. Indeed, there was no going back now, and that sense of permanence sent Ashley’s pulse racing. She glanced into the mirror again, and thought, “I’m bald as an egg, and I look damn good!”
The smile on Ashley’s face grew wider. “Becky, this feels terrific! Thank you SO much!” Ashley rose from the chair; she and Becky exchanged a warm hug. “Now it’s your turn.”
Becky removed her boyfriend’s red flannel shirt, and sat down in the chair, clad in a white T-shirt, black leggings and hiking boots. The petite sprinter ran her fingers through her thick curls for the final time. “I’m sick of having to comb through this tangled mess, Ash. Shave it all off!”
Nervously, Ashley lifted her teammate’s dark hair from her shoulders, and began clipping at the base of the neck. As Becky’s hair was stripped away, the smell of chlorine filled the room. “I didn’t even shampoo today after practice,” Becky explained. “I figured, what was the point?”
Ashley had to stop several times during Becky’s haircut to clear the clippers. Within a few minutes, though, the freestyle swimmer’s ropelike locks were gone. As Becky had done earlier, Ashley worked the shaving cream over her friend’s scalp, and removed the bristles.
“Hand me the mirror, Ash,” Becky said in her husky voice. “How do I look as a bald woman?” She examined the gleaming contours of her head, and said: “Oh, dude, this looks awesome. I can’t wait to see the looks people give me! You’re a good barber, Ash!”
Keying off Becky’s enthusiasm, Lisa and Erin began to get caught up in the moment. They flipped a coin to see whose head would be shaved next. Lisa, the sinewy backstroke swimmer, won the coin flip and hurried to the chair, removing her oversized blue T-shirt. Wearing a black sports bra and gray sweatpants, she sat down and told Becky, “My hair’s already pretty short, so this shouldn’t take long.”
As Becky aimed the clippers at her ear-length blond hair, Lisa nervously fidgeted with her navel ring. Having been an athlete her entire life, Lisa rarely let her hair grow below her shoulders. Anything longer always seemed to get in the way. But by the same token, she had never worn a traditionally male haircut either, and had certainly never shaved her head. Lisa was eager to see how she would look bald.
Moments later, Becky had run the clippers over Lisa’s entire head. Her blond hair was so light that, though some stubble remained, Lisa already looked bald. After Becky stripped away the stubble and wiped away the residual shaving cream, Lisa rose from the chair and strutted over to a full-length mirror. Her toned feminine physique looked odd beneath her freshly shaved head.
Erin was the final swimmer to be shaved. While she was tired of waiting, she enjoyed watching her teammates’ haircuts, and she relished the anticipation of knowing that her head would soon be stripped bare of its dark straight hair.
Erin undid her braid as she strode toward the chair. She tossed her head to the left, then to the right, to free her hair from its braid for the last time.
A few minutes later, Becky had buzzed away Erin’s hair and then razored her head until not even a trace of stubble remained. With a flourish, Erin flung into the wastebasket the rubber band that had bound her hair in its braid. “Won’t be needing that for a few months!” Erin said triumphantly.
Barely two hours after they had devoured their spaghetti dinner, all four swimmers were slick bald. The sheet on the floor was covered with the hair that once framed the girls’ delicate facial features. Becky retrieved her camera, and the girls took turns snapping photos of each other. Having spread petroleum jelly on their heads, the women’s scalps shone like lampposts.
Ashley, Erin, Lisa and Becky all had to readjust their baseball caps, which now fit much more loosely. They agreed not to reveal their shaved heads in public until the next morning’s swim meet. But Ashley just couldn’t wait that long.
As she walked across the parking lot to her car, several players from the school’s hockey team crossed her path. Feeling suddenly brazen, Ashley leaned her head back, lifted the brim of her cap, and ran her hand slowly over her smooth head. This drew double-takes and some whistles from the guys. Smiling as she replaced the cap, Ashley jogged ahead toward her car.
Early the next morning, Becky’s sport utility vehicle pulled into the athletic complex parking lot. She and the three other girls climbed out; each wore a knee-length, hooded parka bearing the school colors, blue and yellow. Each swimmer wore a baseball cap under her parka’s hood, to hide her shaved head.
The four girls entered the facility and walked across the pool deck toward their head coach. “Coach,” Becky called out, “can we see you for a second?”
The middle aged man, with bifocals and a slight potbelly, strode toward his medley relay team. “Sure guys, what’s up?” Becky, Ashley, Lisa, and Erin looked at each other, and smiled mischievously.
“I wanted to do something to pump myself up to beat O’Donnell,” Ashley explained, “and the guys decided that we’d make it a team effort.” At once, the four girls pulled down their hoods and lifted their baseball caps, revealing their shiny bald heads.
“Wow!” the coach said, adjusting his glasses as if to make sure he was seeing things correctly. “A little extreme, but I think it’s great. Me, I’d do anything possible to hide my bald spot. But seriously, this should really help you guys psyche out Great Lakes State. I guarantee they didn’t shave their heads. Great move, ladies. See you at the team meeting.”
Giggling, the four swimmers replaced their baseball caps and hoods, and walked to the corner next to the bleachers where their twelve other teammates were gathered. They loved the medley relay team’s new look, and three more swimmers decided to shave their heads. Conveniently, Becky had brought her clippers, shaving cream and razor. Within 30 minutes, those three team members were also shorn smooth.
The Midwest University girls changed into their racing swimsuits, which were made of a special rubbery material that provided minimal resistance in the water. The seven bald swimmers also adjusted their goggles to fit around their hairless heads.
“Beck, we look so awesome,” Ashley said. The form-fitting racing suit accentuated her muscular female figure, which provided an exotic contrast to her sleek bald head. “I’m glad we all did this.”
It was now time to enter the pool for warmup. The girls didn’t want to show their bald heads until the meet began, so they wore swim caps during the warmup swim. Erin pointed out how loosely her cap fit without any hair underneath. With the latex swim caps on their heads, none of the other teams knew that Ashley, Becky, Lisa and Erin were completely bald.
The first event of the day was the 200-yard butterfly, Ashley’s event. Her longtime rival, Natalie O’Donnell, was the defending conference champion, thanks to her narrow victory over Ashley the previous year.
Ashley went to the heating area, where the swimmers were given their lane assignments. Wearing her baseball cap and parka, she sat down quietly, listening to her headphones. The meet judge handed Ashley a card, which indicated that as the second seed she would swim in Lane 3. O’Donnell, the top seed, drew Lane 4.
A whistle blew, signaling the swimmers to approach their lanes. At once, the six competitors rose and began removing their warmup gear. O’Donnell, whose broad shoulders and chiseled quadriceps gave her a gymnast’s appearance, approached the Lane 4 starting block and pulled her goggles over her eyes. Her fiery red hair was encased in a dark blue swim cap, creating a conehead-like bulge at the back of her head.
“She may have hair,” thought Ashley, “but I’ll have the conference record.” She unzipped her parka, pulled down the hood and quickly removed her baseball cap. An audible gasp went forth from the crowd of 4,000 spectators. This lovely 21-year-old girl had a shaved head!
Ashley pulled her slate-colored goggles down over her eyes, and sauntered confidently to the starting block. She leaned over the edge of the pool, and splashed some water on her face. She tilted her head up, to feel for the first time the sensation of water cascading over her smoothly shaved scalp. Ashley rotated her head around, once to the left and once to the right, to stretch her neck muscles. She could feel O’Donnell-and the other competitors-staring at her bare head. “Good!” Ashley thought. “I’ve broken her concentration.”
The whistle blew again, and the six swimmers stepped onto the starting blocks. “This is the 200-yard butterfly; eight lengths of the pool. Take your marks…”
An electronic tone sounded, and six bodies flung themselves into the pool. Lisa, Erin and Becky had positioned themselves at the opposite end of the Lane 3, their baldness still hidden beneath hats and parkas, to cheer for Ashley. O’Donnell and Ashley remained neck-and-neck throughout the race, and were still tied during the final length. Ashley put her head down, finishing the last lap without breathing, and hit the wall with the last ounce of energy she had left. She looked at the scoreboard to see that, though she missed the conference record, she had beaten O’Donnell by .08 of a second. Smiling ruefully, O’Donnell reached across the lane to congratulate Ashley, and she even rubbed her rival’s bald head.
Becky, Erin and Lisa ran across the length of the pool, where Ashley was already being swarmed by teammates and members of the media. They hugged her and rubbed her shaven scalp. Ashley was proud of her triumph, but she reminded the girls that the team would gain even more points from winning the medley relay. That was the meet’s final event.
When the time came for the 400-yard medley relay, Midwest University trailed Great Lakes State by only a few points. But the points gained by winning this relay would give Midwest University the championship.
As Ashley had done before, the relay team waited until they approached the starting blocks to remove their hooded parkas and baseball caps. Midwest University was in Lane 3, and Great Lakes State was in Lane 4.
The official’s whistle signaled Lisa to enter the water for her 100-yard backstroke leg. She jumped into the pool, and smiled as she felt the cool water sliding over her slick head. When the gun sounded, Lisa took off like a rocket.
As she approached the wall for the relay exchange with Erin, Lisa had given the team a slight edge over Great Lakes State. Lisa’s fingertip barely brushed the wall as Erin leaped into the pool. The water slid smoothly along Erin’s shaven body as she glided through Lane 3. Midwest University’s lead increased slightly, and the girls were ahead by three seconds when Erin touched the wall, giving way to Ashley.
Ashley’s rhythm was perfect; her muscular thighs propelled her through the water, perfectly executing the butterfly stroke’s dolphin kick. Her momentum kept her ahead of O’Donnell, who swam the butterfly leg for Great Lakes State. Ashley attained a personal best time, touching the wall well ahead of O’Donnell. When Ashley climbed out of the pool, she looked back to see Becky already churning through Lane 3, lengthening Midwest University’s lead even further. The crowd used Becky’s gleaming white scalp as a tracking beacon, watching her thrash through the water toward the wall. She finished a full six seconds ahead of Great Lakes State’s freestyle swimmer.
As Gary Glitter’s sports anthem “Rock and Roll Part II” resonated through the building, the Midwest University fans erupted in pandemonium. Ashley, Lisa and Erin ascended the starting block, pumping their fists in time with the crowd’s celebration. Several dozen students-exuberant and inebriated-descended from the stands to greet the conference champions. They rubbed the girls’ bald heads, and exchanged high-fives as they helped lift Becky out of the water.
On the awards platform, newspaper and television cameras crowded to capture the victorious medley relay squad. Clad in their blue warmup suits, the girls waved jubilantly from atop the medals stand. Their bright eyes and proud smiles looked beautiful beneath their bare white scalps. Great Lakes State looked dejected standing on the second place platform. Their heads downcast, they looked like drowned rats with their wet hair hanging limp.
On campus the following week, Ashley, Becky, Erin and Lisa proudly went bareheaded. Ashley had feared before the meet that people would stare at her shaved head. Indeed, her scalp drew looks from nearly every onlooker. But instead of feeling ashamed of her baldness, Ashley felt proud of the accomplishment that her shiny dome represented.