I’m not gonna lie; as an athlete, I’m woefully lacking. When the angels put me together, they included a dollop of creativity, a smidge of whimsy, and a generous enough portion of fine motor skills to drive my interest in drawing, writing, crafting, and music. As for what the cool kids call “muscle sports”–especially anything with a ball–I got nothing.
True story: Once in college, I chose a tennis class to satisfy a PE requirement. Coach Gunderman did his very best, but I simply couldn’t deliver on his investment. When it was time for me to demonstrate my serve, I tossed the ball into the air and took a swing. I completely missed the ball and lost control of the racket, which flew out of my hand and clattered noisily across the court. Then the ball came down and hit me on top of the head. Although I didn’t become a tennis player, I did manage to give Coach a full-on belly laugh, and he passed me out of gratitute for a story he doubtless told many times over the years.
I do like to swim, however. I have since I was a girl. Mom, who was afraid of water and never mastered the skill, insisted that my brothers and I become swimmers. She enrolled us in proficiency classes, signed us up for the community swim team, and never once let her own lack of real experience in the water dissuade her from engaging in some enthusiastic deckside coaching during meets. As a swimmer, I was not burdened by the gift of speed. But I did add enough depth to several relay races to come away with a few medals, which I still keep as reminders of my brief involvement in competitive sports. I put swim team in my rear view, but continued to swim for enjoyment until adolescence made me too cool for it and adulthood left me too busy.
When I realized a few years ago it was absolutely necessary to lose weight, I returned to swimming. As an exercise, swimming is hard to beat. And unlike other physical activities, this one I could do.
To little me, swimming was so much fun. In the water, I could glide like a dolphin, splash wildly, turn flips, and dive deep. Plus, swimming was like floating, and the very closest a human child could come to flying, which everyone knows is the absolute best of all the super powers. These were the memories with which I approached my reentry to the pool. But something had changed in the years between girlhood and adulthood.
Childhood swimming was freeing and fun-filled, but adult swimming is totally different. Rather than porpoiselike, swimming is now purposeful. It’s about burning up those calories and elevating that heartrate. As a child, I needed no special gear to enjoy a day at the pool; in fact, the lack of accoutrement was one reason swimming was so great: no helmet, no padding, no special shoes. Hell, I only wore a swimsuit because the grownups insisted.
But as I prepared to jump in yesterday, I took inventory of my paraphanalia. To facilitate my swim, I now need these things:
- Age appropriate swimsuit with a skirted bottom to disguise my old lady’s belly. This item is absolutely necessary.
- Custom ear plugs, ordered by my ENT because I have become prone to ear infections. Despite their $100 price tag and the fact that I could pick my own colors (hot pink and jet black), the custom ear plugs only work moderately well, making it necessary for me to add an
- Adjustable headband, whose purpose is to hold the earplugs in place. Since the headband also only works moderately well, I top all of it off with a
- Swim cap. The cap’s other purpose is to protect my hair color, which I have done every eight weeks. Then there are the
- Goggles, to protect my dry eyes. I’d never have dreamed of wearing goggles as a kid. Neither would I have worn a
- Nose clip. God, I hate the nose clip. But my ENT, daring to do the job for which I pay him, informs me that water can also enter the ears through the sinuses, and strongly suggests that I wear the clip to further protect my fussy ears. Then there’s the
- Water resistent Fitbit, which counts laps completed and calories burned, and the
- Manual lap counter, worn on my finger, which keeps my Fitbit honest. Finally, I have my
- Clarifying shampoo and a good quality skin cream, both to be used immediately after getting out of the chlorinated water.
So, back to yesterday’s swim. As I ticked off the pool lengths and stroked toward the day’s goal, I adjusted my swim cap, refit my ear plugs, checked my Fitbit against my lap counter, and cussed out my nose clip. But was I having any fun? I remember a wellness coach once telling me if I chose an exercise I loved, it wouldn’t seem like a chore. This seemed rather like a chore, and I missed swimming just for fun. It made me downright grumpy.
From the far side of the pool, I heard a noise. A happy noise. A group of children had entered the free area and were playing for all they were worth. Amid the cannonballs and spirited splashing, there was laughter and there were squeals of delight. These kiddos weren’t focused on counting lengths or burning calories. They were just living their best life, and I could only imagine how dull and pathetic I must have appeared, chugging back and forth all by myself.
As I reached the end of a length and prepared to touch off again, I heard a voice. “Hi,” it said. To my right was a boy, around six, hanging onto the lane marker and looking at me with a combination of curiosity and admiration.
“Hi,” I answered.
“You swim good,” he said.
And I said, “Thanks.”
Noticing my Fitbit, the boy asked, “Are you allowed to wear your watch in the pool?”
I explained that it was a special kind of watch that counted the number of lengths I’d swum, and to prove it I showed him how the Fitbit registered 86 lengths so far.
At that, the boy’s eyes widened, and he stared at me like I was the most amazing human being he had seen in real life. He was truly impressed, not just that I had used the word swum in a sentence correctly, but that I had racked up so many lengths with more to come, all while wearing the world’s most incredible watch.
“Wow,” he said. “That looks like fun.” And at that moment, he was right. Meeting that little boy made me day, and if it’s possible to swim with a smile on your face, I know I finished my workout grinning ear to ear.