I have never been athletic, not for lack of trying. In middle school I was on the basketball team solely for the intimidation purposes of my height. Although, one game in with my lack of both skill and endurance on display, the intimidation factor wore off rather quickly. The first time I ran a mile and a half, I fainted. As an adult, I failed a fitness test three times, next to marines, navy/army personnel, and other assorted demigods. You could ask me the context of that one sometime, but I signed an NDA. Again: Not. For. Lack. Of. Trying.
Then the water beckoned me. At first, a heated pool with only four lanes and a few older people slowly making their way to and fro. It was a non-intimidating start. I was the youngest and the fastest, and I had an awful lot to learn. Routine for swimming is essential, and it’s not for the faint of heart. You can’t just throw on a good pair of sweats and running shoes and have at it, more coordination is involved. I’ve seen plenty of hopefuls come through and disappear because they couldn’t figure out how to sustain it, and it’s not easy. Early on, there were more than a few instances where I’d forgotten a key piece of the puzzle, and just wound up going to work early and disappointed. The gear you need, from suit to towels/goggles/ear plugs/anti-chlorine shampoo, and how to carry it all without looking like you’re fleeing the country, takes a while to figure out. You also have to consider your exit strategy. If you’re going to work and you want to look like a human being by the time you get in for your 9am meeting, you’re going to need a hair dryer, maybe some assorted products, and some well put together corporate casual clothes.
Once you master your routine, you have the water to contend with. My experience with swimming was the same as most: Summer camp, community outdoor pools, maybe Long Island Sound before I was old enough to know better. Laps, strokes, flips, hydrodynamics/drag, were all just theory. I joined my local community center, of whose praises I will sing to nearly any ear that will listen, including you, and which is a million times cheaper and more consistent than any YMCA. The pool was not heated, I was no longer the youngest nor the fastest, and my head-above-the-water-panting-at-the-end-of-every-pool-length ways would not fly there. So I got harder on myself. I traded in my ruffled two piece for a legitimate Speedo, and was shocked at the difference in my speed. I’d inadvertently been strength training with all of the drag the ruffles had caused. From there, I wondered what else I could do. Could I flip? Could I swim non-stop? I watched the others, showed up every week day- barring extenuating circumstances- and mimicked what I saw. The thing that shocked me the most was not that I became athletic, it was that I made friends.
It’s been five years since I’ve begun taking this seriously, and it’s given me everything I’ve put into it tenfold. Physically, I feel better than ever, emotionally, I love that place and all it’s done for me. On the days that I can’t go, I feel irrationally and unshakably guilty. During alone vacation, I search, in vain, for a pool to take temporary shelter in. It’s not work for me, it’s not a dreaded exercise. It’s not a countdown to when I can stop, like so many other routines were. It’s the one place I’m strong and fast. A place where I can set a goal, reach it, and start working toward another, while loving every second of it. It’s a necessary piece to my puzzle. It’s also given me unexpected things like an actual community. People whose names were originally ‘The Grey Lady’, ‘Mickey the Mouth’, ‘ The Doctor’, ‘Kenny Rogers’, ‘Nemesis’ in my head, now all have their proper names. I’ve adopted the swimmer formerly known as Kenny Rogers as a coach. With his moral support, I’m working my way to a mile non-stop each morning. Right now I’m 90% of the way there, he insists that I’ll be at a mile by the end of August. He’s right, I’m three laps away from that goal.
At the end of each morning, I take time to close my eyes and float for a while with only my nose/mouth above the surface. The depth could be endless beneath me, but each time I touch my feet down to the familiar tile, I find friends bobbing along side of me, and face a day a bit brighter for it all.