The Competitive Swim

I started swimming again. It’s the first time I’ve been in a pool for the mere purpose of relaxation rather than trying to beat my best time. I wasn’t even wearing a racer back swimsuit.

I used to swim competitively from about ten years of age until I was seventeen, because at seventeen you need to get your ass a job and pay for your own clothes–or so my parents told me.

Every summer, I would get up at 6:30 a.m., get on my bike–because my mom refused to drive me the five minutes by car since it was too early for her–and ride to the pool.

It was a country club.

Oh, you’re one of those people. 

Actually, I wasn’t snooty at all. I just liked to swim. Was I good at it? Hell no. In fact, I sucked. I have all the participation ribbons to prove it.

Participation ribbons are tragic and important; they are the equivalent of just saying you’re a loser, but here’s a ribbon so you don’t feel bad not having a ribbon.

But, that’s why I would get up early every morning during all of those summers. Theswimming swim coach offered to let me swim two miles in the pool every morning before the pool opened up to the other members. It was his way of encouraging me to stick with it because I had potential; or so he thought. I just knew the only potential I had been not sinking like a stone to the bottom of the pool.

Getting into the crystal clear water on a hot summer day at seven in the morning was pretty awesome; especially after a humid two-mile bike ride. I loved diving into the pool; being able to see the entire 25 yards under water without another person disturbing my underwater view. The water was calm–it looked like a mirror that had just been cleaned to a shimmery glimmer.

Two miles of swimming seems a lot. In a pool that size, it equated to sixty laps. I don’t remember how long it took me, but I remember the drills: freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, kicks with the kick-board, and then trying to remember how many laps I actually swam. I had a hard time remembering how many laps I did, and perhaps I did more than sixty; maybe less. I tend to count twice a lot, so I’m imagining I was an overachiever during my early morning lap sessions.

You’d think with all that practice I would have won first place in something. Anything. I was halfway decent at three strokes, but never placed first because I would hyperventilate during swim meets. I would have a tank of oxygen at the finish so I could take in a few deep breaths. A doctor would be at the edge of the pool to take my heart rate and temperature. There was a vomit bag for those embarrassing throw-up moments.


I think I may have gotten a second place ribbon during those seven years of swimming, but it’s been so long I really don’t remember.

Does it matter?

My triathlon days were spent in an indoor pool trying to improve my time based on the length of the swim leg which was about one mile. During the actual race, I didn’t take into consideration all the waves and people swimming over, around and on top of me.

This wasn’t a clear pool of calm, glistening water. This was a man-made lake with a lot of brown and green crud with hundreds of heads covered in rubber that looked like bobbers in the water; kicking and flailing their arms with what looked like a mere suggestion of the freestyle stroke.

Maybe freestyle means swimming any darn way you like, no?

No one attempted the side-stroke. That would just not be cool or very triathlon like. However, that’s what I ended up doing when I swallowed a lot of water and had a hard time breathing. Gasping for air and swearing at the same time, I managed to keep calm; trying to not get kicked in the face by the swimmers in front of me. When I finished and was able to touch my feet on the bottom of the lake, I was pissed at myself for not training properly. Indoor pools aren’t meant for triathlon training. Unless you can manage to have fifty other people in the pool making huge waves for you while you swim–or better yet– have them shove waves of water on top of you, the best practice is open water without any water craft near you to chop off your arms or legs because you would end up packing in your triathlon days.

I now swim for pleasure–relaxation and exercise. I can’t do any head turning, so I side, breast and back stroke through an 81 degree indoor pool of perfectly clear water with no kids to jump in the water in front of me–there’s just a few old folks trying to keep in shape like me.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in the pool and since I’m not swimming for competitive reasons, I’m really enjoying the tranquility of the whole experience. Swimming deaf definitely has its advantages. It’s enlightening–very tranquil–allowing me to focus on the windowed sky above, thinking about my form and wondering why the old guy in the hot tub thinks that’s a good place to take a nap.

I worry about stuff like that–what if he just falls into a deep sleep and sinks? I’ll have to drag his ass out of the hot tub and perform CPR. I just went from tranquility to panic in about three seconds. The last time I had to perform CPR was like, NEVER. I learned it while training to be a lifeguard. It was great saving people at the bottom of a pool and dealing with them thrashing about trying to drag me under because they’re panicking–and that was just the test to become a lifeguard. I never got a job life-guarding because working at the clothing store was more lucrative, and I got discounts on jeans and ponchos.

goggleswithtubeI tried wearing goggles like I used to when I swam competitively, but then I wondered to myself, why am I bothering? This isn’t the damn Olympics, Nancy. Plus, whenever I wore goggles, I would have a raccoon face afterwards; the goggles were like suction cups on my eyeballs, plus I wouldn’t have a clear view of the old guy sleeping in the hot tub. My tranquility of swimming turned into a covert operation of ensuring a man’s life wasn’t about to end in three feet of 110 degrees of bubbling and foamy water. I would wear those goggles with the hose to breathe through, but that just looks like something a stalker would wear.

I wear a swim cap because it’s required for gals like me who have longer hair. I don’t mind this concept. The only issue I have with the swim cap is putting it on. When dry rubber meets dry hair, it’s like putting a rubber suit over your head. Forcing rubber down over my skull actually makes me think I’m shrinking my neck–like trying to stick ‘ol Jack back inside the box, but the box is too small.

At least I now have an exercise that requires zero gravity so I can’t injure myself. I don’t sweat like a Navy Seal during boot camp, and feel good when I’m done.

No ribbons or medals required–just being in the moment is pretty good for me now.



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