As I walked into the three and a half foot water, I shivered just a bit. Though the salt-water pool is heated, it’s not exactly the temperature of my body.
I was heading to the center lane, so I dropped beneath the surface of the water, propelled myself under the lane marker, then came up shaking my arms and legs, warming up the muscles, then stretching them long and limber.
My ears were sticking out from my new white swim cap; did I have it on right? The goggles tight across my face were a miracle for seeing under water. And not just avoiding the irritation of the salt and chemicals, but really seeing.
Usually near-sighted, with more than a hint of astigmatism, I’m nearly blind in the water without my glasses. But with the goggles on, I hadn’t counted on the effect of magnification of the water.
As I swam back and forth across the pool, I could see everything under the water as thought my vision were 20/20. My hands submerged in the water then scooping back – I watched them on the strokes when I wasn’t turning my head to the right for air. The thick lines painted on the floor of the pool, helping beginning swimmers like me cut straight paths through the water – I saw them royal blue. The swimmers to my right and to my left, especially the one sharing my lane – I saw him coming near me or passing me, his laps doubling mine.
I’ve never been much of a swimmer. I was on a summer swim team when I was 13, and in high school phys ed class, we learned all of the swimming strokes of the IM medley – butterfly, breast stroke, back stroke, and freestyle. And when I’ve gone to the pool during the summers, I usually swim a lap or too to cool off from the sunbathing.
But swimming for exercise is new, and something I’ve got in my head to do.
I don’t know why I thought I would be good at it or have any kind of endurance the first few times. But I have been disappointed when I have to stop every 25-yards lap because my legs are cramping or my shoulders ache. And though I’ve been able to do between 12-20 lengths during each work out, a good number of them involve me walking back and forth in the water to catch my breath.
Breathing is the hardest part.
When I’m in the water, I feel light and buoyant and spry like a dolphin for about 20 yards. And then the air that I take in between strokes gets less and less fulfilling, and if I don’t stop and just breathe, I believe my lungs will collapse on the spot.
I’m embarrassed when I stop short of the wall after a length of the breast stroke, the man next to me swimming lap after lap after lap, flipping at the ends like the dolphin I want to be, his feet never even hitting the floor. When I have to just stand next to the wall for nearly a minute while the other swimmers keep moving, I feel the redness on my face, mostly from the work out, but partly from the shame.
I’m not a swimmer like them.
But I want to be. So I am going to keep at it. I will keep going, keep putting on my suit and shivering when I get in. Keep feeling the burn in my lungs, and resting between laps though I feel humiliated. A friend recommended a kick board when I get tired, and an online workout plan suggests starting with just four lengths of the pool taking 20 long breaths worth of rest between them.
I know what I have to do. I have to work, and I have to wait.
And while I am working and waiting, I will become a swimmer.
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Photo by Randy Pertiet, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.