I love to swim.
I started swimming way back when I was a toddler. I can’t remember a single summer growing up where I did not go to the pool several times per week. At first with mom, then babysitter, then via a bike with friends, then driving there on my own to meet up with people.
The early days were those of SPF 4 Coppertone, so little-white-me was a freckled lobster much of the time. Once biking and driving, I progressed to determined-to-get-some-shade-of-a-tan oils and Sun-In to created my crunchy, straw-like hair.
I started to swim with a styrofoam float. It was a giant chunk of styrofoam with a little red, white, and blue ribbon belt on it. I progressed quickly to other floatation devices until none were needed.
I took lessons. My parents thought it very important that all of us were trained to a minimum level of proficiency in swimming and piano, so we all partook. In swimming, there was Polliwogs, then Minnows, can’t remember what came next. I can do a mean survival float, though!
Once per summer we would go to “the beach” and meet up with cousins and friends for swimming and a picnic. I do use the term “beach” loosely as we lived in Nebraska at the time. Nonetheless, it was always a big day that we looked forward to. Building sand castles, swimming in the “seaweed” and dragging our sand-covered bare feet into the sun-baked car for the seemingly long ride home sitting on damp beach towels with the car windows cracked until the air kicked in.
It was all fine, I liked to swim. It was recreational, social, fun. And swimsuits were cute. I never imagined I would do anything athletically with it. I was not even familiar with competitive swimming until the 1984 Summer Olympics were on television from Los Angeles. Even then, I just knew of it, never saw myself swimming a lap in my life.
Then, I went boy crazy. Yes, I can honestly say I ended up swimming laps, swimming competitively, because of a boy. Why do we do that? Hormones.
So I did it. I started swim team because of a boy and I liked it.
I have this thing about me that if I am convinced something is a good idea than I pursue it swiftly and relentlessly. This was the case. I joined my high school swim team freshman year. I was a utility player: Not the worst, not the best. But solid, dependable. I would swim the stuff no one else wanted to like the 500 Freestyle and the 100 Butterfly. I was decent, not great. I was also a lifeguard and taught swimming lessons, the social circle of swimmers. The pool was still where to find me all of the summer into fall.
I look back now and I know I could have been a better swimmer in high school had I not been so boy crazy. I was often so distracted by my social life that my commitment suffered. I was always present at practices and meets, just not always 100% there. But, I also know I never would have swam a lap if I wasn’t boy crazy. And for that, today I am thankful.
Back in 2006 I got back in the pool after over fifteen years. Now I swim a couple of times per week year-round. I still love it. Being that it is now the age of SPF 50, instead of a freckled lobster I resemble more closely a blazing white Greek column at the pool. But I don’t care so much about that any more. Swimming is challenging in a way that makes my muscles work hard and it forces my brain to work right along with them. It is a total body workout that is exhilarating and exhausting. I know I work harder now than I did back in high school. And because I am around 20 years older, the payoff for the hard work is not physically as great. But intellectually, it is far more rewarding because of how in tune with my body I have become.
The other thing I love about me choosing to get back into the pool are the facts surrounding it. Even though I had not done it for a long time, it was something I had knowledge of. I had been there before, I knew what it took to swim for fitness. So I was patient with myself, tapped into that knowledge, and went back to that place. If you have done something before, if you have the experience, you can do this as well. It does not matter how many years have past, the data is still in your brain somewhere. Tap into it.
I can see very clearly that I will be the 84 year old lady who the young fitness center staff greets as I make my way to the pool to get a few laps in. I will show up very early in the morning. People will know my name. They may be intrigued with my dedication, but I will not say too much. As I tuck my white hair into my white floral swim cap – matching perfectly my alabaster skin, I will just think to myself that it was all because of a boy way back in the day. And I’ll just smile.