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Finding water that's not moving, holding on to it, using it—no one does this better than Tracy Caulkins, the finest woman swimmer


When all 10 lanes of the Nashville Aquatic Club pool are occupied by three or four swimmers each, the noise is that of a very swift rapids running through a steel warehouse. Two large, clanking fans force a little late-spring air into the building, but it's just as humid as the air inside, and its leafy scent is quickly smothered by the pool's heavy chlorine breath.

Standing on the gritty concrete pool deck, jostled by beleaguered mothers carrying away dripping 10-year-olds or bringing dry replacements, the visitor forgets his immediate object and says, "Oh Lord. Swimming."

It has always struck him as a sport that resists understanding, existing out in that worrisome region where commitment begins to shade into dementia. To be competitive, swimmers have to go 10,000 to 20,000 yards a day—at least four hours of intense labor—and then they lift weights. Immured in what seems to be watery sense-deprivation, they train by repeating intervals of 50 to 800 yards, with minuscule rest, hour upon hour, season upon season of seeing nothing but black lines on the bottom or a pace clock's advancing hand. Even the best of them, looking back, seem confounded by swimming's demands. "When I swim laps now," says Don Schollander, who won four gold medals at the 1964 Olympics, "I think, gosh, this is hard. Did I really do this all those years? It seems the worst kind of Chinese water torture."

While the sheer difficulty of some endeavors earns for those who undertake them society's quiet respect, such as that accorded marathoners or mountain climbers no matter how modest of attainment, in swimming only a very few are taken seriously. They're the fortunate ones who are dominant at the time of an Olympics, as were Schollander, Mark Spitz, Donna de Varona. Part of this is because of swimming's being a kid sport in which all the physiological systems necessary for success can be—must be developed in adolescence. Thus the sport's imamge: pushy parents and champions in braces carrying lucky stuffed animals. Part is because swimmers are largely invisible, their faces and strokes obscured by their medium, and their races few, coming in binges at the end of long periods of training and tapering. They are the embodiment of deferred gratification, though the reward most of them seem to long for as they approach their majority is just being allowed to quit. "If someone had come up to me just before a race," Spitz said last year, "and offered me $100,000 a year for five years if I stepped down off the platform right then and there and retired, I would have taken it. Right then."

These, then, are the visitor's convictions, that swimming is hard, thankless and estranged from reason, as he comes to seek out the most accomplished woman swimmer in history. Tracy Caulkins, who is working in a far lane, sharing it with two of the Nashville Aquatic Club's fastest male performers, has won 31 national titles over the past four years. She has broken or equaled five world and 58 American records. Her versatility is unprecedented, for she has held an American record in every stroke. After East Germany's triumphs in the 1976 Olympics, Caulkins led the U.S. women back to superiority, winning three golds and a silver in individual events and swimming on two victorious relay teams in the 1978 World Championships. She was 15.

Now, at 18, she trains on, this afternoon pulling, kicking and swimming through 8,500 yards of assorted intervals, stroke drills and individual medley work. She wears two old swimsuits to increase her drag, but still on every turn gains appreciably on her lane mates, Dave Swenson, 18, who will be off to the University of Texas in the fall, and Peter Ferreira, a talented 15-year-old who has done 4:06 for the short-course (25-yard pool) 400-yard individual medley. Caulkins' best for that one is a women's American record of 4:04.63.

"She's so far ahead of all other women in turns and on starts that it's ridiculous," says Joe Goeken, the NAC assistant coach in charge of the age-group kids. "It's streamlining, an ability to get through the water. We marvel because we can't see that she does things any different or any quicker. She just glides."

Swimmers in general and Caulkins in particular constitute a prime study in deliberateness. If football is Wagner and basketball is Gershwin, then swimming is Brahms. Caulkins seems not to kick powerfully, but her hyperextensive knees give her dolphinlike leverage. Her stroke is mesmerizing because of the economy of her arms' practiced movement. As the workout goes on, the sight of her ivory arms almost languidly stretching out ahead in the backstroke has a soothing effect, lulling the watcher into forgetfulness of the effort.

"She has amazing ability to hold on to the water," says Bob Munoz, another NAC assistant coach. "When a swimmer is efficient, her hand is always searching for water that's not moving, finding it, using it. That's a gift. I don't think you can teach that."

At one stage of the workout Caulkins is to swim three 50-yard butterflys, nearly all out, then recover with 150 yards of easy IM, then three 50-yard backstroke charges, then another 150 IM, and so on through the breaststroke and freestyle. She planes high in the water during the 50s, her times are not far from records, and she has only five seconds' recovery between sprints. Yet she never gasps for air, and sometimes even has a word for a teammate during her brief rests. "A breath and a shrug," says Munoz. "She must have incredible subcellular efficiency—right where the muscles create work from glycogen and oxygen—because she never really taxes her oxygen-transport system. That's not to say she isn't working like a demon."

She doesn't look like a demon. In the few seconds between sprints, Caulkins' face often takes on a vacant, goofy expression, until her chin juts in concentration as she pushes off. Upon closer scrutiny her face seems to have two distinct parts. Her pronounced jaw resembles that of a slightly pouty child. Her eyes, pale blue under brows of fixed astonishment, seem to be eyes of assent, of controlled eagerness.

The NAC head coach is a slim, darkhaired man of 31 named Ron Young. He has held the position since last September. There are things that are sacred to Young, and you cannot be around him long before they are obvious. One is a passion for improvement in any swimmer who labors nearby.

"Anita! Faster from here to here in the breaststroke!" he shouts over the water while shooting his fists out from his chin. The urgency of the voice is startling, so close to the surface lies its flint. There are ways this is done properly, that tone says, and in my world they shall be done. Young's time on the pool deck, coaching, is a constant alternation of such adamant standard-keeping with a boyish jubilation. "When we won the Great Spirit Award at the Southeastern age-group meet," he says, indicating photos of dancing, roaring kids on the bulletin board behind him, "the whole state of Alabama got together to try to 'out-cheer us and still didn't do it. Why, these age-groupers know 26 cheers and they can rip them off one after the other. It was great! A championship should be a celebration."

That belief is connected to the second of Young's fundamentals, the power of the unified team. "We try to get kids to feel that the team, the team goals, are more important than individual goals, and if the relationships are good [which doesn't necessarily mean happy and smiling], then everybody's headed in the right direction. Then the individual goals will fall into place."

There are 140 members of the NAC team, which at its best operates as an extended family. "Tracy is like a team mama," says Young fondly. "She's not a bouncy cheerleader like her best friend, Macie Phillips. She's just there, warm and supportive and caring. If she was the weakest swimmer on the team, she still would be priceless, she puts out so much. She'll get bruised from all the 8- and 9-year-olds climbing in her lap, and then she'll go out and swim as fast as any woman ever has."

At last the swimming part of the workout is over. A Masters group takes over the pool, and the competitive swimmers haul themselves upstairs to a cramped little weight room for their daily hour and a quarter of lifts and exercises. They work with partners. Every 30 seconds a horn beeps and partners change places, doing back-lifts, bar-dips, bench presses, chin-ups, rope climbs—25 stations and 36 exercises in all. Swenson sports a T shirt that reads WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE SPRINTERS GET OUT. This is in contrast to the sign on the wall that says WE ARE WHAT WE THINK. Another swimmer's lingering thoughts are clear from her Shirt: RUSSIA, HOW WAS IT PLAYING WITH YOURSELF?

"We stress variation in this work," says Young, "to keep it interesting and because there isn't much specificity for swimming from anything you can do on land. This is simply for power, which is the generation of work over time. That's why we test by asking for 10 repetitions. If you can only do nine military presses with 150 pounds, sorry, it doesn't count." Young has even constructed sets of wheels which, when fastened to an athlete's knees, will let him "swim" uphill. "In California [where Young coached before coming to Nashville] we had girls who put on garden gloves and did 80 meters of uphill crawl in 36 seconds. The guys did 29."

Caulkins, as befits a marine creature, seems to assume her true shape only when immersed. Here, doing push-ups, she displays the swimmer's characteristic plasticity. Seldom is her spine in a straight line. Standing with her knees curving back and her shoulders thrown forward, she has been measured by her sister as being three inches shorter than her official height of 5'9½". She weighs 133 either way.

Finally she is free to talk, which she does in a Tennessee country drawl. It happens, she says, that the next few days are to be crammmed with the rites of departure from The Harpeth Hall School, the distinguished girls academy she has attended for seven years. "I'm done with exams," she says, "but there's the athletic banquet and the senior banquet and baccalaureate and step singing and a party my folks and Macie's folks are having and graduation itself, I guess I can only fit in little chats."

"Well, you can brood over the hard questions in between."

"I'm not much of a brooder. Except about where to go to college." This decision, recently made, "reduced Tracy to tears," according to Young.

"I got it down to Florida, Texas and Stanford," says Caulkins. "I'd be happy at any of them, I know, but it was just so close, with so many factors to weigh. Finally I picked Florida. I have great respect for Randy Reese, the Florida coach. My sister Amy is there, and the school has a strong communications department. I like to work with people."

It's a wonder. While working as an intern at a Nashville TV station, in the midst of agonizing over colleges, Caulkins was handed a message to call an AP reporter who was checking out a story that she had decided to attend Pensacola Junior College. "I called this guy back and denied it," she says, "but I felt really weird, like things were getting crazy. An hour later I came to the pool and found the coaches and said, 'Something funny is happening.' "

"This AP guy," said Goeken when she had explained, "did he sound dumb?"

"Yeah, he did. He was dumb."

"I mean really dumb," said Goeken, looking at a choking Munoz.

Caulkins gaped in astonishment. "It was y'all!" she shouted.

"Wasn't that mean?" she says now. "And their excuse for things like that is to take the pressure off."

"Granted that their behavior was despicable in that case," says the visitor, "isn't there something to the general idea of distracting swimmers from the hours and hours of work you do?"

"Oh, sure," she says, "up to a point. But you still have to concentrate on what you're doing in workouts. There's a satisfaction, when you have a hard set, a rugged workout, and you feel it, and take it, and go beyond it. Don't you feel really good after something like that?"

"Uh, I suppose in principle. But being in the water can get so claustrophobic...."

"It's different for me," says Caulkins lightly. "In the water I can sense where the other swimmers are, how they're doing, because we're all in it together. It's like we're touching, in a way. I know a lot of people think it's monotonous, down the black lines over and over, but it's not if you're enjoying what you're doing, with 40 others who are enjoying it too."

"Have you read Moby Dick?"

"No. Why?"

"Well, what you say reminds me of a famous chapter, where Ishmael and some other crew members are assigned to squeeze the lumps out of a tub of spermaceti, the delicate wax from the head of the sperm whale. It's Melville's song to the brotherhood of man, and if you've written on it for your graduate thesis, you can quote parts of it forever. Ishmael says, ' fingers felt like eels, and began, as it were, to serpentine and spiralize.... I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it...and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands.... Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their much as to say,—Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we...know the slightest illhumor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.' "

"That's comparable," says Caulkins judiciously. "That's kind of the way it is. It captures a lot of why I keep on. It's for the team, for the community. Because they're all a part of your success."


The Caulkins house stands among broad-leaf trees atop a green hill of lawn south of Nashville. "Yeah, it's pretty, would you like to help mow it?" says Tom Caulkins, a large, bearded, expansive man. He sweeps the visitor into a living room in which mantel and hearth space is taken up by a garden of crystal and silver trophies. Tracy's mother, Martha, is tan and fit, with a slick pageboy haircut and running shoes. She is a junior high art teacher. Tom is coordinator of group testing for the Nashville-Davidson County public schools, processing 800,000 forms a year. Neither parent betrays in speech a trace of the South.

"We came from Waukon, Iowa when Tracy was six, so I could work on my doctorate at Vanderbilt," says Tom. "A couple of summers later Martha took Tracy to Iowa to visit her mother and left Tim and Amy, then 11 and 10, with me." His expression is one of recollected horror. "Here I was teaching classes, taking classes, and with two kids. So we joined the Seven Hills Swim and Tennis Club. Every day I picked up sunburned, waterlogged kids. When Tracy got home from Iowa, Tim and Amy insisted she come out for the team, too. At first she'd only swim backstroke because she hated to have her face in the water. But all three had a taste of success."

Joel Cyganiewicz, the coach of West-side Victory, an AAU team in Nashville, recruited the Caulkins kids "in a package deal," says Tracy, and Tracy was on her way.

"I remember my first meet as a swimming parent," says Tom. "It was in Memphis. An old pool with only four or five lanes. Things took forever. I timed. I helped out. When the first night's competition ended, after midnight, I was exhausted. 'If it's always like this, I'm out of it,' I thought. The next day I stayed back at the hotel, and I got a call there saying, 'Your Tracy won the backstroke.' There was a swimming mother there, knitting. 'Tracy won!' I said. She didn't look up. 'You don't realize it, but that just cost you $5,000,' she said." Tom thinks for a moment of that prescient Mme. Defarge. "It's all cost a pretty penny more than that," he says, with satisfaction.

Tracy's first head coach, Cyganiewicz, was apparently furiously intense. "He was scary," Tracy has said. "I always wanted to please him because I sure didn't want him mad at me. He threw a chair at me once."


"To make me go faster," she says now. "I did, too, to get out of the way. But I didn't take it all too seriously in the beginning. I'm glad I didn't."

So are her parents. "We were pushy, yeah," says Tom. "Especially me. I wanted to talk about every practice on the way home. I felt the need to be the motivator. We just happened to have a kid who was hard to push out of swimming."

At 10, Tracy had made the top 10 in the country in her age bracket in several events. At 12, having qualified for the senior nationals for the first time, she chose to swim in them, saying, as Tom recalls, " 'Generally you blow your first nationals, so let's get it over,'—and she did. She got about 50th in the 100 breast-stroke in 1975 in Kansas City."

And then a touching thing. "John Trembley, Tennessee's NCAA freestyle and butterfly champion, came over and asked me, 'Well, what does the kid do now? Would it be all right if I spent some time with her?' I said sure, so together they went up on the little hill behind the blocks."

"We watched the psyching, the big names, how they prepared for races," Tracy said later.

"I'd guess she got two years' education in those two days," says Tom. "I'll feel forever indebted to John for that." As might all the young swimmers who now benefit from Tracy's own advice.

In that year, 1975, Tracy's club and another merged to form the NAC and hired a new coach, Paul Bergen. "He took a team whose most ambitious goal was to win the Tennessee club championship and said within two years we'd have an American record holder and national champion," says Tom. "And we all laughed."

"We sort of laughed," says Martha.

They did until their daughter became U.S. champion in 1977 in the 100-and 200-yard short-course breaststroke and the 200-and 400-meter long-course IM, with American records in all four events. "By then I knew I'd do well," Tracy has said. "I'd moved up in a gradual progression. And while I'd wanted to make the 1976 Olympic team [she was 16th in the Trials in the 400 IM], now I see that wasn't very realistic. Like several people would have had to break their legs." But in 1977 she won, and in 1978 she led a reconstructed U.S. women's team to Berlin for the World Championships.

"She made a statement when she got there—what was she, 15?—that she felt responsible for how the U.S. team did," says Tom, wincing theatrically.

She must have included Nashville in her take-charge call, because swimmers from the NAC (Caulkins, Joan Pennington and Nick Nevid) outscored every nation except the U.S. In individual events, Caulkins won the 200 butterfly and the 200 and 400 IM.

"A good year," says Tom with a sweeping gesture, as if throwing open French doors or becoming an owl rising from his perch. "Including relays, she had five firsts in the Worlds. But she never reached a single personal goal that Bergen had set for her. Goals are between the swimmer and the coach. Parents don't usually know of them. But I happened to see hers in 1979—on the floor of her bedroom with everything else—and I thought, 'Lotsa luck, kid.' I'm not sure she's reached 'em yet."

Caulkins' 1980 Olympic hopes were boycotted away—"She took it better than I did," says Tom—but 1981 has been a showcase for her. She won four events in the U.S. Swimming International meet in Gainesville, Fla. in January, beating the Moscow Olympic champion in each. Then she won four events more in the short-course nationals in April, all in American-record times.

There is a banging at the door, which bursts open to admit Jim and Mary Jo Phillips, parents of Macie, Tracy's classmate and teammate, and co-producers of the upcoming graduation party. Jim, a dentist, is covered with grass stains from preparing the lawn. These are genuine Nashville folk. "Guess what, you carpetbaggers," says Mary Jo. "We invited 72 people, thinking maybe 40 or 50 would accept. Well, no one has turned us down! Where will we put them?"

"I did manage to procure champagne for the punch at $29," says Jim.

"Twenty-nine dollars a bottle?" says the visitor with a whistle, thinking this is to be serious celebrating.

"No, $29 a case," says Jim. "You can't get it any cheaper than that."

The Phillipses are Harpeth Hall parents as well, and Tom tells why. "When we knew swimming was going to be a big part of Tracy's life, we saw that if she went to a public junior high she'd have to get the 6:30 a.m. bus, and there would go her morning workouts. Then when the principal wouldn't bend on calling trips to nationals unexcused absences, I told him where he could stick his school and she went to the Hall."

"Harpeth Hall allows Tracy and Macie to miss maybe a total of five weeks of school a year," says Jim Phillips. " 'Course, then the kids have to make up all the work, all the tests."

"World travel has its educational aspects," says Martha. "We sent our little girl to Australia at 14 in 1977. In three weeks we got back a young woman."

"I growled about the tuition," says Jim, fastening on the theme of daughters maturing unexpectedly, "but there was a day I took Tracy and Macie to the orthodontist and he wasn't back from lunch, and suddenly the kids are slumped over their school books in the corridor. I looked at that and thought, 'I guess it's all worth it.' "

Just then Tracy arrives home from one of her ceremonial dinners and sits down tiredly. The talk floats on, of how Young has induced the team both to do more and enjoy it more than Tom believed possible. Doing more for Tracy meant that during Thanksgiving's Week of Heaven, she did such things as 100 repetitions of 100 yards, beginning a new one every 65 seconds. There is discussion of Tracy's pliable posture, of how she almost drowned off Copacabana Beach in Rio in 1978. "I never lived near the ocean," she says. "Or rip tides or currents. One carried us out, and then a wave tumbled me over and over. I've had great respect for the ocean ever since."

She survived to win the Sullivan Award that year as the nation's outstanding amateur athlete, the youngest recipient ever and the only one to be on suspension from competition at the time of getting the award. Tracy had drawn a three-month punishment for a curfew violation after the 1978 U.S.-U.S.S.R. meet in Austin. "I deserved it," she says now. "There was a birthday party down the hall, and a lot of people were leaving in the morning. I wanted to see 'em, talk to 'em. I wasn't in my own room at I a.m. That broke the code we all sign when we go to international competitions." Later, when Caulkins sat on her school's Honor Council, recollection of the incident made her something short of a hanging judge. "You put yourself in the other girl's place," she says. "It was hard for me to vote for strict punishment."

She discusses her view of swimming's incessant record breaking, contrasting it with running, in which records are infrequently set and often come in spates, after a pioneer athlete—a Roger Bannister or Ron Clarke or Sebastian Coe—has opened the psychological floodgates for others. "I don't think a lot of swimmers have those floodgates," she says. "Or they're open all the time, in expectation that things will happen, barriers will fall. So it's a thrill to break a world record, but I'd say winning is more important. That's the pressure of the Olympics, or some of it." Of 1984 she says only that if she is training well, of course she will try for the team. But three years is a very long time for a competitive swimmer. It will take nurturing surroundings to see her through them. Thus her concern over choosing the right college.

But after Tracy has gone to bed, her father speaks easily of how it will someday be over, Olympics or not. "If neither of my daughters ever wins another race, all the money and time and devotion have been worthwhile," Tom says. "Up and out of the house at 5:15, 5½ hours of practice a day, six hours of school and then homework, it's made them winners. If they use that time and effort in anything else, they're guaranteed to succeed."


After the day's 10,000 yards, the team piles into the weight room and everybody lies down. "It's called 'Relaxation,' " Caulkins will say later. "You concentrate on your breathing, on allowing each part of your body to let go. You're warm and really, really relaxed, and your mind's kind of blank, and you're fading away, you're not really paying attention, but of course you are." Paying attention to Young reading from "team affirmation," a kind of litany of positive feelings and goals derived from the swimmers' suggestions. "You feel good afterward," says Caulkins, rushing off to award medals to Special Olympians. "I think it's really neat."

Young seizes the visitor for a tour of Nashville, driving first to the outlying Loveless Motel for authentic country ham and biscuits and red-eye gravy. These he eats with a good-humored appreciation distinct from the somber devotionals being carried out at other tables. "This all knocked me out at first," he says, "especially the accents. Whenever the kids leave, they all say 'ba!' like a bunch of sheep, and 'all' and 'oil' are interchangeable and 'cramp' is a two-syllable word."

Dialect and cuisine aside, Young is convinced that Tennessee is a swimming coach's mother lode. "I'm originally from Michigan, where church and family life are important values," he says. "I coached in Florida next, where families weren't always intact, and that leads to a coach's becoming a surrogate parent, not a coach. Then we were in California, where the families were fine but church was missing and there were so many distractions. But here it's church on Sunday and visit Grandma in the afternoon. The kids are respectful and eager to learn. They have foundations."

Young is a believer in the interconnectedness of all aspects of life. "There is so much more to those kids' swimming fast than pool and weight work," he says. "It's having their whole life in order. A lot of illness, for example, is related to having no goals. The ideal life is being able to deal with challenges, to be approved and to have relationships grow."

So a coach treats the whole person, who in turn rewards the coach by being a fast swimmer?

"Rewards the ream," says Young, "which in turn serves the individual kids."

The ends merge in this diagram, and the sense of self seems to slip away a little, as it does for Caulkins when she is in the thronged pool. Caulkins, who has won so handily and for so long that she can look at winning and records more dispassionately than any other active swimmer, seems the proof of Young's assertions. She continues because of the team, and her winning lifts the team. All the plans that Young and his coaches have for the team, those flags and cheers and festivals that may have seemed forced on first hearing, can be seen as plans for squeezing hands, for the furtherance of a hard and abiding love.

Young shows off the rest of Nashville, the country music stars' homes, the nearby Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson. He arrives finally at Maryland Farms Racquet and Country Club, across the road from Waylon Jennings' woodsy acreage. Here the team swims outdoors through the summer. It has a gray barn motif, not sustained by the chandeliers in the weight room. "It's a magnificent setup," says Young flatly, "but the country-club, carpeted-sauna atmosphere isn't conducive to getting fast swimmers." That edge is back in his voice, the urging perfectionist who cares so exclusively about the competitive heart.

Yet he has himself in hand. A few minutes later, while passing the governor's mansion and its neighbor, Minnie Pearl's house, he says, "The birds and rabbits are always too slow here in the mornings." He gently swerves, smiling as he avoids a butterfly on the road.


Harpeth Hall's white brick mansion rises at the end of a winding, wooded drive that begins at the school's wrought-iron gates. Dusty rose perfume drifts from the assembled families and friends of the 1981 graduating class. They sit, warm and expectant, in tippy folding chairs arrayed on the lawn beneath oaks. Pastel-gowned maids representing the younger classes proceed along the walks, carrying bouquets of magnolia the size of pillows. Cello, flute and piano notes accompany the Lady of the Hall, the older students' choice as the most exemplary girl, as she takes her place in the portico of the mansion and is crowned with flowers.

In two airy white phalanxes across the steps, left and right, are spread the junior and senior classes.

Step singing is singing from the steps. The seniors go first, the refrain of their song being, "As I stand and watch the water running fast." Tracy is stuck in back, so her parents have to crane and shift to see her. Then the juniors sing. Then everybody sings the alma mater. And then it is over, the white dresses dancing into the crowd.

Tracy rushes to her mother. "Oh, we messed up!" she cries. "The girl who wrote the song started singing the wrong thing...."

"It was fine, dear," says Martha. "Nobody noticed."

A sizable portion of the crowd repairs to the nearby Phillips house for the party. The refreshments include country ham, little pecan pies and champagne punch. "Very elegant," says a white-haired matron, lifting her cup of punch.

"Nothing but the best," says Jim.

The napkins are embossed in green with MACIE AND TRACY—GRADUATION 1981. Tracy greets family friends easily and listens to advice that she go into everything from medicine to moonshining. Her school dean is there, Janet Hensley, an effusive woman who exclaims to the visitor that Tracy and Macie "never, not ever, took advantage of their opportunities to be indifferent about Harpeth Hall's activities. They were completely unaffected, joyful teen-agers."

Later, Tracy escapes home, having, after all, another 11,000 yards and a commencement ceremony the next day. The visitor, preparing to depart, thanks her for her patience and candor, and, unaccountably, asks her favorite cheer.

Caulkins straightens up on the couch and sings, "Hippsoo, Rasoo, Titty-boom basoo, Osh-kitty, Osh-kosh chick-a-boom-bah, Titty-roo, Titty-rah, Titty rubby-dubby flubby-dubby, Sis boom-bah, Nashville Aquatic Club, rah rah rah!

"That's an old one from Westside Victory," she says. "From long ago. Oh to be a little kid again...with so much energy, so few cares."

Her mother, melted by this, gives Tracy a long hug. That makes it all seem worthwhile.



Caulkins, fingers locked to streamline her turn, shows the form that has won 31 national titles.



At a songfest before graduating from high school, the 5'9½" Caulkins was in an unusual spot, the rear.



After graduation, Caulkins, who will go to the University of Florida, sheds a few tears with friends.



Hyperextensive knees give Tracy the flexibility of a dolphin.



The butterfly isn't Caulkins' best stroke, yet she has netted a national fly title.



The Caulkinses share a few yuks at their Nashville home: (from left): Martha, Tim, Tracy, Tom, Amy.



Under the medals in Tracy's bedroom, the Caulkins sisters—plus a stuffed frog—have a heart-to-heart.



A typical day at the Aquatic Club includes workouts with a Nautilus machine and on a swim bench, plus an instructive talk with Coach Young.



Caulkins (foreground) takes part in one of the relaxation periods that are a mainstay of NAC training.