The room is brimming with gladiators. The air is tense, clouded by emotion and feverish excitement. My armour is slick and black, it presses in to my skin.
I give my countries name and watch as the official scratches a pen through the page. The marshal bellows from atop the staircase, we are to follow her to the final call room. I am a gladiator bound for battle. I can feel my heart rage in my chest. It drags itself up my throat, it’s choking me. I fill my lungs with air, desperate to remain calm. There is a wave of noise in the distance. People are stomping and yelling. A Scottish athlete must have conquered the others.
We are lined up, single file. There are clusters of gladiators. I imagine the seasoned fighters covered in scars. Each loss, each disappointment on the World stage carved and healed, a wound not to be repeated. They are calm, light even, jostling with one another and laughing. They hardly register the wave of noise from the crowd. It washes past them, like boulders in a struggling stream. The new fighters, the fresh faces and the young are different. I am among them, my only experience comes from domestic battles. I have not fought on this scale before. Some gladiators begin slapping themselves, skin glowing pink and eyes flashing wild. Others are stone, they take solace from headphones and breathe methodically. There are a few with eyes like lasers darting around the room, scanning the space but noticing nothing, their twitching nature betrays nerves. I suddenly think of Majorca, of Spain, of outdoor pools and laying by the beach. I battled through sessions there, I produced times I never dreamt possible. The memories spike me with confidence and a lucid calm blankets my mind. The line moves. Groups of four vanish behind a corner and the roar of the crowd once again washes over me.
The marshal beckons me forward, it is time. I step on to a brilliant blue mat and am blinded by the lights in the arena. The noise penetrates my brain, my senses are flooded and I steal a moment to settle myself. My teammate grips my hand and we welcome the crowd. They are thirsty for a fight. I can feel their energy.
I am no longer anxious, but hungry. I feel my skin prickle to life, a current of energy reverberates throughout me. A moment sweeps my being, swift and fleeting, but I am overwhelmed by pride. I grip the fern over my chest and carefully remove my jacket. I drink in the atmosphere, become intoxicated by the excitement and the energy ripping through the complex. When the whistle blows I can hear my own heartbeat. The air is silent. The start gun tears apart the stillness and the battle begins. Bodies pierce the water, I watch the girls power through the water, years of training spent crafting the execution of the next two lengths. I step on to the block, carefully watching my teammate sprint toward me, the moment before her hand slams the wall I go deaf.
I throw my body in to battle. There is no crowd, no team, no competitors. I am alone in my head, blind with desire. I will my body forward, relentlessly fighting for every millisecond. I am a gladiator in the throes of battle.