Strokes of Gold by K E Osborn
Release Date: August 5, 2016
A lot can happen at the Olympic Games… you just have to get there first.
My name is Lacy LaBelle. I’m a swimmer, and my story is a rocky one.
My life hasn’t been easy, my father kicked me out at sixteen making my dreams of Gold a hell of a lot harder. But with my best friend’s parents taking me under their wing, my dreams became something to strive for.
Now I’ve found my way to the Olympic trials, and nothing will stop me from securing my ticket to the Games.
Except, maybe my brain telling me I’m going to freeze, the girl who’s intent on seeing me fail, and not to mention the hot guy who’s taking my breath away.
Everything is a distraction.
Will I get my ticket to the Olympics?
Will my hard work see me swim the epic strokes of Gold?
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Water swirls around me as my lungs struggle for breath. My chest burns and tightens with the agony of lack of oxygen, as water surrounds and encases me, smothering my every direction. Muscles clench and cramp with the strain as I push, trying to force myself through the water. No matter how hard I propel, I can’t seem to break through and breathe the air I so desperately need. My body is giving in, my brain is struggling to keep up, as I thrust harder and harder to the edge. I’m right at the point of passing out as I fight to make it through, pushing and straining to make it to the end—just that bit further.
My hand crashes against the wall, my body relaxes as my head pushes up through the crisp blue liquid, and my lungs take a deep long much-needed breath. My jelly legs stand on the bottom of the pool as my chest heaves, drawing in the quick breaths as I pant fighting for air.
I’m pushing myself—I know.
But as I look up at the time clock on the wall, I smile, I’ve shaved .92 off my personal best. My arm throws up into the air automatically as I let out an excited squeal. A gentle pat taps me on my head making me look up as I giggle to myself.
“Excellent work, Lacy… a personal best. But if you want to qualify tomorrow you need to do even better. You can do this. Now try again,” Tuck says. I slump my shoulders and nod. He smiles and stands up as I hop out of the pool, even though every part of my body is screaming at me.
I need to do this.
Caroline steps up next to me and smiles wide. “Race ya!” She smirks, and it’s just the boost I need. Caro’s not only my teammate, but my housemate, and my best friend. I couldn’t get through a day without her. Her beautiful chestnut brown hair is covered by her token pink cap, and her brown eyes are covered by her goggles. Her small frame but broad shoulders make her figure stunning while her pale features and pretty face make me smile. Her age of nineteen sometimes shows through in her childlike behaviour, but I love how much fun she is. She knows when I’m falling flat, and she’s always there to pick me up, like right now. So, I nod getting into position on the starting block, and Tuck readies his timer even though the board is timing us.
“Take your mark,” he bellows.
I bend down into position.
The bang of the firing pistol blasts and I leap forward into the water. The tepid liquid hits my body, and the adrenalin kicks in. Every time I hear the firing pistol, and when the water hits my face, I think of my favourite quote by Mia Hamm. And at just the right moment, I light the match inside of me. Sometimes it’s right at the start of the race. Sometimes it’s in the last fifty. But either way during the race, that match will be lit, and it will spark an undeniable rush inside of me. Igniting that thrill I get when I’m doing my best, that feeling of being alive and one with the water, having it flow over me, and enveloping every inch of my body as I cascade through. There’s no greater rush than knowing you’re one with one of the world’s greatest marvels. And as I swim the butterfly stroke through the pool, the rush is the same as it was the very first time I swam. And I don’t think this feeling will ever change for me.
Even though my body is fighting me after so much swimming today, I understand the intense need to keep going, to improve, even if only minutely for tomorrow. My hands hit the wall, I turn and dive under, kicking my legs to push me through the water as I move back up throwing my arms over my head and down into the depths of the pool. The last fifty is where you start to tire, but where you have to really fire on all cylinders and that’s where I light the match in this swim. I grit my teeth and push as hard as I can moving my arms over my body as quickly as possible. My lungs burn, my body aches, but I keep pushing.
My hands hit the wall, and I stand up in the pool taking in the deep lung fulls of air I desperately need once more. If possible, somehow I have a second wind and don’t feel as drained as my previous attempt. Glancing up at the board, I’ve shaved another .34 off my new personal best, and Caro came in just .78 after me.
“Yes!” I call out as Caro slaps my shoulder and Tuck laughs from behind us.
“Good work girls, you’re ready. Now get out of the pool, head home, and rest up. You have a massive day tomorrow. I want to see you back here bright and early. No excuses, Caro.”
“Hey, why me?” she asks with a dirty great big smirk.
“Because it’s always you,” he chides, but with his usual smile.
She nods and giggles. “True… thanks, coach. See you tomorrow.”
He walks away and I look to Caro, who takes off her cap and takes in a deep breath. “You ready for tomorrow?”
I purse my lips and shake my head slowly. “I don’t think I’ll ever be ready. Olympic trials, that’s huge. Tomorrow could be the start of something massive for us, Caro.”
She nods. “I know, but just because we’re small time girls from South Australia doesn’t mean we can’t whip everyone’s butts, and make the Australian Olympic team. We’re just as good as everyone else. Don’t forget that.”
Nodding, I take off my cap letting my shoulder length blonde hair fall down, and hoist myself out of the pool. I’m only twenty, so I’m still young to be chosen for the Olympic team. This is my second time at trying out, last time didn’t go so well so I’m a little apprehensive and nervous about tomorrow.
“Let’s go get changed, I need some food.”
Caro laughs and nods. “Yes, burgers and curly fries.”
Scoffing, I laugh. “I wish.”
We head to the foyer where Caro’s parents, Trinny and Harry and her three older brothers Ryan, Logan and Joshua are waiting. They’re so supportive of us both, they’re basically my surrogate family. My mum, dad, and sister Stacy think that my swimming dreams are just that… dreams. They don’t support me at all and think I won’t get anywhere because I failed last time. But luckily, I have the Hughes family and my coach Don Tucker to support me. They keep me grounded, and provide all the encouragement and guidance I need.
I can’t help but think back to when my parents basically disowned me, and told me if I were to keep pursuing my dream it would be on my own.
I walked out of the marshalling area disappointed with myself for not making it through to the Olympics. I’d worked so damn hard. Tuck would be disappointed, so would my parents, but not as devastated as me. I’m not sure what happened but I froze in the pool. Everything became tense and my muscles just gave way. My head started swarming with all these thoughts, and I was distracted and couldn’t concentrate.
I stuffed up.
I failed, and I only had myself to blame. But my father would be furious after all the time and effort he’d put in to my swimming. I knew without a shadow of a doubt he wouldn’t like the outcome of this swim. Walking out the back to the holding room I saw my parents and Stacy standing and waiting. My dad’s arms crossed over his chest, his nostrils flaring and his mouth in a thin tight line. Mum was shaking her head and glaring at me. MY stomach flipped as Stacy winced. She probably had already heard how disappointed they were in me. Now, it was my turn to hear how bad I’d done.
“Lacy Hannah LaBelle… you get your pathetic arse over here right now young lady!” Dad screamed out so loudly that everyone else turned back to look at him.
I screwed up my face in embarrassment as I slumped into myself and my feet stepped faster to get to him before he made more of a scene.
“I’m sorry, Dad. I—”
“You’re sorry? Sorry Lacy? You think that cuts it? Your mother has spent endless hours bringing you to training, I’ve wasted thousands of dollars to get you here, and you can’t even do the appropriate thing and qualify for the Olympics as some sort of recognition for us? I think that’s pretty selfish of you, Lacy.”
My stomach flipped, and my heart raced frantically as I looked down at the floor. “Dad, I tried my—”
“I don’t think you tried at all. Personally, I think you’re pathetic, and I never should have encouraged this at all. You’re useless. I don’t care how much you love this, Lacy. You’re done!”
My head shot up and my eyes welled with tears. “W-what do you mean?” I stuttered hoping he didn’t mean what I thought he’d just stated.
“I mean Lacy… you suck at this. So no more. Your swimming days are done!”
“No! Dad, no. I can’t stop swimming!” I yelled.
His eyes squinted into thin lines, and his lip turned up into a snarl as his hand reached out grabbing my shirt at my shoulder and pulling me to him. “If you think you have any kind of say in this kid you’re wrong. I pay for everything, so I deem what happens. And you, you little brat, are finished. Done.” He shoved me, I stumbled back as the tears ran down my face and I started to sob.
Trinny and Harry came bounding over, and Trinny pulled me into her arms.
“Stay out of this, Trinny,” Dad groaned.
“No John, you’re a fucking bully, and I won’t have it.” She looked down at me smoothing the hair from my face. “Are you okay, sweetheart?”
I shook my head and she grit her teeth glaring at my dad. “You can’t treat her this way. She’s sixteen for crying out loud.”
“I can and I will. She’s my daughter and I pay for this sport that she so badly sucks at, Trinny, and I won’t have it anymore.”
“But Dad, it’s my life!” I called out in the arms of Trinny as she comforted me.
He reached out to grab me, and I pushed into Trinny further as she pulled me away from him. “Don’t be a brat, kid. You’re coming home right now. We’re going to throw out all your awards and medals just so you realise you’re never swimming again.”
“Jesus John, do you hear yourself?” Trinny asked.
“Stay out of this, Hughes.”
“Dad you can’t throw out my stuff, I want to keep swimming!”
“You want to keep swimming? Fine. Then you leave our house and pay for it yourself. That’s the only way you’ll keep swimming, Lacy.”
I gasped as fresh tears pricked my eyes and ran down my face. “Dad?” I murmured as Mum looked at him furrowing her brows and frowning.
Trinny grabbed my shoulders and turned me to face her. “Lacy, would you like to come and stay with us? We’ll pay for your swimming to continue. You can’t give up on your dreams.”
My eyes widened as my parents gasped and my breath caught. My life at home was never easy. Dad was a hard task master, and whenever I stayed at the Hughes it was always fun. This was an easy decision for me to make.
“Really?” I asked.
“Lacy, if you leave our house you can never step foot back inside it again.”
“John!” Mum berated.
He turned up his lip, stern-faced, as I looked at Stacy while she silently cried. I didn’t want to leave her with him, but I needed to escape.
“Fine. Trinny if you’ll have me I’d love to stay with you.”
“You’re no daughter of mine, Lacy,” Dad huffed out and then stormed off while Mum cried and shook her head.
“I’m sorry, honey,” she murmured then walked away.
Stacy sniffed and reached out, she hugged me tightly but didn’t say a word. Then she kissed my cheek and ran off after my angry parents.
I turned to Trinny and Harry, bursting into tears. She pulled me in for a hug and held me tight. It felt more like a mothering hug than I’d ever felt in my life. “We’ll look after you, Lacy. You don’t have to worry anymore.”
I’m brought back into the here and now by Logan calling out to us. “Hey, hey, it’s the next two Australian Olympians coming right up.” He throws his hands in the air.
“Shut up douche bag you’ll jinx us,” Caro replies as we walk up to them and the others chuckle.
“It’s not jinxing, it’s called good juju. I’m making good karma or whatevs.”
“Yeah, Nah. You’re just a dick,” Caro says rushing up to Logan and pushing his chest making him chuckle as he takes a step back.
“You love me!”
“No… I really don’t.” She smirks while he pulls her into a headlock and she laughs as he gives her head a scruff.
“Okay, okay, enough you two.” Trinny chuckles pulling Caro from Logan’s grip and into a hug. “I’m proud of you, sweetheart.”
“So am I,” Harry, her dad says, and I smile at them. “We’re proud of you too, Lacy. You got a personal best today… we saw. Well done you!”
“Thanks, Harry. Hopefully, I can keep up the good times tomorrow.”
“You will, sweetheart. You two are going to do amazing things. But for now, let’s get you both home, hey?”
We nod as Josh comes to my side and links his arm with mine. “Great swim today, Lace. As always, you look so good in the water.”
I smile and lean my head on his shoulder. “Thanks, Josh, let’s just hope I can do these times tomorrow.”
“You’re gonna nail it, I can feel it.”
He leans his head against mine, and we all walk to their minivan.
“I made you girls kale smoothies. They’re in your fridge when you get home,” Trinny calls out as we arrive at the van. “Oh, and I provided a tub of supplements on the counter to help.”
“You know we can’t take supplements that aren’t approved, Mum. We can get done for that.” Caro chuckles.
Trinny shakes her head and giggles. “Oh shit! Right, of course, I forgot. They are just health food supplements. I’ll take them away, but drink your kale smoothies!”
“What’s in them?” Caro asks as we all file inside the van.
“Kale and water.”
I cringe, and a shudder runs down my spine as Caro looks at me and sticks out her tongue.
“Caro… are you being sarcastic?”
We all chuckle. “Yes, Mum.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Trinny chides.
Harry chuckles and starts the van.
We arrive at our unit and all file out into our small abode. Walking to the fridge, I spot the jug of kale smoothie and draw my lip up deciding to leave it there, and turn back around to head out to the lounge to sit with the others. Trinny walks in and smiles at me, and I think for a second she’s going to ask me about that stupid kale smoothie, but she tilts her head and places her hand on her hip. I know that stance, it means she’s going to have a heart to heart with me.
I smile, leaning back against the kitchen counter and swallow hard waiting for whatever it is she has to say.
“Lacy, I’ve known you going on what… six years now?”
I nod. “Yeah, about that.”
“I can tell when you’re nervous, sweetheart. I know how big tomorrow is for you. And I know you must be thinking about last time. But this isn’t the same. Just because you didn’t make the team last time doesn’t mean you won’t this time.”
Slumping my hip into the bench, I nod. “I know, I’m working harder than ever before, but the doubt is there, you know. What if I choke again? What if… in the pool, I freeze?”
She steps up to me and takes my hands in hers. “Lacy LaBelle, you’re a strong, confident, brave young woman, and ever since those trials I’ve never seen you freeze again. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. Don’t let your head get in the way. Just swim from the heart, not your head.”
Nodding, I smile. “It would be nice if Mum, Dad, and Stacy would come to watch and support me. That would make me less nervous, but I know you guys will be there. You’re all the family I really need.”
“Oh honey, I know your family are… well… different to ours. But like you said, you’re a part of our family, and we’re there just as much for you as we are for Caro. You’re my second daughter. You know that, right?”
My eyes start to mist up, and she clears her throat. “No tears, not tonight. We save them for celebratory ones tomorrow, okay?”
I giggle and nod. “Deal.”
“Let’s have some dinner, and then get you girls to bed.”
“Thanks, Trinny. I’d be lost without you guys.”
“Like I said… you’re family, and family is here for each other. Blood or not.” She leans in kissing my forehead, and I reach out hugging her tightly.
“Thanks, I really do love you all so much.”
“And we love you too, sweetheart. Let’s go have some dinner, hey?” She pulls me along with her and I cuddle into her side feeling like she’s more of a mother to me than my real mum. And I’m so grateful to have her by my side tonight.
One of Five ARCs of Strokes of Gold by K E Osborn
About the Author
Australian author K E Osborn was born and raised in Adelaide, South Australia. With a background in graphic design and a flair for all things creative, she felt compelled to write the story brewing in her mind.
Writing gives her life purpose. It makes her feel, laugh, cry, and get completely enveloped with the characters and their story lines. She feels completely at home when writing and wouldn’t consider doing anything else.
Connect with K E
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