Essay: Swimming

I have been swimming recently, something I have not done since training for the sprint triathlon, which happened in 2006.  How time does fly.

 I grew up swimming, though the dearth of indoor pools in Boise made it a summer-only activity.  Once in a great while my girl scout troop or a church group would travel to the YMCA downtown and we would pay the admission fee and wander down staircases and through locker rooms with naked ladies full of hair in odd places showering to emerge in the heavily chlorinated room with the pool.
Summer was different.  The public pool was right next to the high school, a short drive away—though today we would probably ride bikes, as it was close enough for a short bike ride and much too far away to walk.  Come to think of it, I walked that distance often in high school, it wasn’t far for my adolescent legs. But for a mother and two children it would have been a long walk in the hot Boise summers.
Mom always signed us up for the first round of swimming lessons.  She never learned to swim herself and so we received the largess of a skill denied to her.  We did the first round of lessons because she liked to get them out of the way for the summer.  As a child this sometimes meant the pool was frigid, and as I got older and realized there were other lessons sessions, I lobbied for a later date–to no avail. This seemed tremendously unfair at the time, but now I would do the exact same thing.
Swim lessons were fun, taught by the lifeguards, with varying degrees of competency.  My brother and I progressed through the levels. He always passed everything with flying colors; I passed everything except diving.  The skill of diving came late to me. It was scary to plunge head-first into water, even clear,
chlorinated water I could see the bottom of.  I eventually mastered it, and eventually could do something besides jump off the diving board.
But swimming lessons weren’t the point of the pool, the afternoon swim was.  We had a family pass, which was used by the children in the family, not the adults. My father worked when we went swimming and since my mother didn’t swim, it was my brother and I with the round patches sewn to our swimsuits who entered the pool every day. My mother probably walked us in when we were younger, and then took her place in the covered bleachers outside the fence.
I headed off to the right, toward the women’s locker room, my brother to the left to the men’s.  The locker rooms were bare bones, a few changing stalls (none of which had curtains) a bench and some hooks to hang the green bags while you stuffed your clothing and shoes into them.  There were showers, which I never used despite the “take a shower before entering the pool” sign.  No one seemed to follow this adage, so I didn’t either.  There were toilets, which I didn’t like to use because the seats were always wet.
From the locker room my brother and I met up at the lifeguard station, where we turned in our bags for pins with numbers on them.  After pinning our numbers to our suits, we headed to the pool.  Like most things in childhood, the pool was huge and grew smaller as I got older.  If I viewed it today it would probably be
tiny.  The main area of the pool was six lanes and 25 yards, ranging from four feet deep to 12 feet deep.  During open swim times, there were no lanes.  The four foot area was blocked off from the “deep end.”  Though there were about two lanes worth of swimming area, most of the deep end was taken up with receiving the people coming off the diving board.  We had a “low dive” and a “high dive.”  The low dive was a standard diving board, with the high dive being 10 or 12 feet.
It was a rite of passage to take your first jump off the high dive.
Directly off of the main swimming area was the kid’s area.  It was about 12 by 12 feet and ranged from two feet to probably three and a half feet deep.  It was here I logged the most hours as a child.  The four foot area of the pool was too deep for me for all of my childhood.  It was also where the adolescents hung out and thus not only too deep, but too scary for me.  But the kids area was just the right deep and full of fun.  We played.  We had goggles and messed around with them, we did handstands and somersaults and played “Marco Polo” and other invented games. The pool in the summer was my favorite place to be. In my mind, we stayed there for hours, though I bet it was 90 minutes, max.
As an adolescent, I joined swim team and became intimate with all 25 yards of the bottom of the pool, swimming back and forth with my fellow teammates.  They were good lap swimmers, some of them had been on the team since they were six, so I had some catching up to do.  My years of lessons meant I had the technique down for three of the four strokes.  I had apparently not progressed far enough in the lesson series to learn the “fly.”  After some tutoring from my teammates, it became one of my favorite strokes, so splashy and powerful.  I
became a good swimmer.
I’ve swum off and on during the years.  In college my first PE class was Advanced
Swimming and Diving taught by Professor Needham, a jolly older woman who
parlayed her teenage lifeguard experience to a life-long career teaching women
to swim, or to swim better.  We worked on our stroke technique, swam for distance and learned how to dive.  As an adult, I loved the precision of diving,
but diving opportunities in these litigious times are few and far between.  Professor Needham also taught me Lifeguarding and Synchronized Swimming.  I loved her classes.
Currently, I’ve been swimming at Columbia Pool, which is an indoor pool located in a park near my house.  I suffered a few delusions of grandeur before my first visit, hoping that there would be a sauna.  My first visit had me chuckling because Columbia Pool is the exact sort of bare-bones setup of my childhood pool.  There is a changing room, showers, toilets and the pool itself.  Forget the sauna, there aren’t even lockers.  I put my street clothing in a
green mesh bag exactly like the bags of my childhood and hang it on a rack in
the pool area.  Columbia Pool is even more bare bones because there is no bag check.  Though it is covered, giving me a year-round swimming opportunity fairly close to my house.
I’m quite happy there.  The majority of the swimming population consists of what I call “fat old ladies” women who come regularly to do their exercises, water walk, and chat.  They are quite friendly and I look forward to joining their ranks someday, though I prefer lap swimming to water walking.  The plus of my exercise companions being 30-40 years old than I am is that I feel like the young, fit one.  There are few people in my age demographic and they too, mostly do not fit the super athlete profile.
I like swimming’s solitary nature.  There is optional chatter in the changing
rooms, but the entire workout involves putting my face in the water, leaving
little time to chat.  In addition, I count the number of laps I have swum, and due to my inability to keep numbers in my mind for very long I repeat my lap count over and over again, much like a counting meditation.  Swimming is also
one of the few athletic activities I do well.  My arms power through the water and I feel strong and fast.  Because I can only compare myself to the people in the lanes on either side of me, I have limited data that will challenge my “I’m good at this” feelings.  It’s wonderful.
So I’ve become one of those saggy women with hair in odd places showering in the locker room.  I hope to keep up my swimming habit when school begins again.

4 thoughts on “Essay: Swimming”

  1. You may not remember it but you started swimming at around nine months old. I always felt I missed out on many activities because I could not swim. I am still terrified of the water. This was not to be your fate or your brothers. So it was lessons every year so you would be excellent swimmers. In the Mom department I give myself an A plus in swimming. I loved your positive memories. MOM

  2. I'm so glad to hear that you're swimming again! I never learned how, despite taking lessons on several occasions, which makes me feel sad/stupid. You make it sound like so much fun, and I know it's great exercise. You're inspiring me to want to learn again. (This weekend, I got in a pool for the first time since we moved to Texas, so nearly 2 years!)

    I also have to say that I absolutely love the fact that your mom commented on this post.

  3. This is another excellent essay. I love how memory-filled it is. You connect so well to those pool memories. Its funny to me that I didn't take lessons until I was in Couer d'Alene. Barbie took lessons her whole life, and all of the D family are great swimmers. I don't think any of the people in my maternal or paternal families ever took lessons. I wonder if it was a socioeconomic thing or based on the fact that the D family lives in lake country of N. Idaho. My lessons were at the Y and at a private house and I had some huge water fear issues (I vaguely remember an instructor dunking me, which sees unlikely, but it the basis of some terror from my youth). My mom lied so close to South. We could have walked to that pool. Oh, wait, my childhood summers were all spent in CdA, of course, that is why I learned to swim there, where there are no public pools, only a lake. Love your mom's comment. The question is, have you been able to keep up your swimming?

  4. Sadly no, I haven't been. I can't get there in the mornings and get to school on time and in the evening there are tons of things going on so the lap swimming is limited. The night I went, there were two lanes for lap swimming and they each already had three people in them. I hate to share with more than one other person, so I just went home. I could go on the weekends, but the weekends are the weekends, so I've made it there once since school started. Sad face.

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