Just after Memorial Day, a year and a half since we’d last immersed our bodies into a swimming pool, we were emboldened by our Covid inoculations to resume swimming (in a manner of speaking) in our outdoor community pool.
Lord, it hurt. Walking 5 miles a day and pumping barbells had kept us from becoming total slugs, but the aerobic conditioning and upper body strength swimming requires far exceed what walking can provide.
The ordeal was worsened by the multitudes of floating cicadas who swim even worse than they fly. Even that gross prospect didn’t stop us from doing the exercise we most enjoy. The cicadas have had their fling and are gone. Tragic though the brevity of their open air existence may be, we shed no tears at their departure.
For the first week we felt like pieces of flotsam and jetsam from a shipwreck. But, hey, we were back in the water, and misery loves company. It’s great to be married to someone who shares your passions. I knew Sandy was the girl for me when, after a college swim meet, I pushed her into the pool fully clothed. She just laughed and showed off her very nice stroke. To my disappointment, she did not shed her garments in the process.
Gradually, the agony has evolved into mere pain. Still, the pace is very slow. Katie Ledecky could have done two 1500 meter swims and been showered and dressed in the time it took me to do one a couple of weeks ago. It’s gone better the past week or so, but there’s still a long, long row to hoe.
During my teens, swimming was key in my emotional, social and physical development. Through the years, it helped keep me healthy and strong. It was my stress relieving, self-affirming refuge. More than just exercise, it was, at one time, at the core of my identity. It helped me to get into a good college and led to great summer jobs as a lifeguard and instructor. Being a varsity athlete fostered self-confidence and bolstered self-esteem.
Decent but no phenom in high school and college, I continued, unlike many of my peers, to swim regularly after graduation. In my 30s and 40s my times were not far off those of my college days. Mediocre at age 20, in early middle age those times got me gold medals at New York State masters championship meets. Swimming was an early lesson in perseverance that I went on to apply, often successfully, to future endeavors of all kinds.
Feeling the need for a new athletic challenge, I took up running in my late 50s. That segued into road racing. Talk about an identity crisis. It was a shock to learn that I’m more of a natural runner than swimmer. Still, even though I gave up serious swimming during the competitive running years, I kept doing it to some extent to cross train and, frankly, because it felt so good.
The pool we are swimming in now is 50 meters long. That’s the true “Olympic size.” It’s a long, long way from one end to the other, more than twice that of pools usually found in YMCAs and the like, and astronomically longer than the glorified bathtubs people build in their backyards.
I don’t begrudge non-swimmers their pleasures, but as far as I’m concerned, the only reason to get into a pool is to swim. If you want to sit around a glimmering body of water enjoying the ambiance, jumping in from time to time to cool off, horsing around tossing balls, splashing and dunking your friends or yelling “Marko” and “Polo” ad nauseam, bless your heart. But count me out.
I am so averse to doing anything in a pool other than laps, that, even though I paid for it, I have never even dipped a toe into my daughter’s backyard boondoggle. They got a great deal on their house on a foreclosure, complete with a hole in the ground where a pool had been. It had been taken over by frogs who made lovely night music. Though I encouraged them to either sell the frogs to French restaurants or to fill the hole in with topsoil and grow vegetables, they insisted they had to have a “pool.”
To their credit, unlike many people who build a backyard pool and tire of it within a couple of years, they have continued to splash around in it daily. My daughter claims to have swum a half mile recently. Eighty lengths to go as far as we do in sixteen. It makes me dizzy just thinking about all the turns. But who am I to judge? We do our swim before visiting them, then sit reading under the patio awning listening to them frolic away or sit poolside, chatting with them as they float in their inflated easy chairs. As long as they get out in time to grill the burgers, we are content.
There’s much more to getting back into the swim than the swimming. It’s a paradigm of our re-entry into normalcy after a long, bleak stint of social isolation and restrictions. We are back into the flow of the human comedy and there’s no better place to view it than around a swimming pool. Until the Covid spell was lifted, I never realized how much I enjoy the fragrance of chlorine and sunscreen, the gleeful shrieking of kids at play (well, that’s already getting old,) observing the drama of the teens’ restless social rituals and the aesthetic pleasure of, discretely, taking in, the never ending variety of the human form.
There’s music in the sound of churning, splashing water and in the boing-boinging of the diving board. Swimmers of various skill levels, propelling themselves in their many idiosyncratic versions of a stroke, provide comic entertainment free of charge. The younger swimmers, zipping past us as we plod along, are a poignant reminder that youth, that life, is fleeting. All the more reason to seize the day. Best of all, no masks. It’s good to see familiar faces and to exchange pleasantries once again.
Life at the pool seems to embody all the good things we have missed this past year, missed even more than we’d realized. The feeling of being fully involved and fully alive that swimming and the pool scene provide is joyful beyond words.
It will be a long slog, and a painful one, before we regain our pre-pandemic swimming shape. No matter. We’re back in the flow, and few things have ever felt so glorious.