I grew up hearing stories about when my mom took me for my first swimming lesson and I cried. No, it wasn’t because I hated the water, but rather all the other kids were crying and so I played along and cried too. Maybe it is because I am a water sign that I have always gravitated to the water. Lakes, oceans, swimming pools or a tub. Where there is a body of water, I can find myself paddling around for hours.
On my 52nd birthday, I joined the Masters Swim Team called the Blue Dolfins (yes, that is the spelling). It’s funny, the younger Blue Dolfins is who my daughter swam with when she was younger. While I’m not quite the swimmer I was 35 years ago, it has taken me back to a “happy place.” Like 35 years ago, I’m making great friends but now it is more for exercise and getting my cardio going. Coach Aaron is a cool guy who is a great motivator and teacher. There have been many changes over the years to the strokes…no wonder kids today are breaking records!
On the way to practice, I wake up by listening to music that will carry me through the workouts. One song that resonates while swimming is A.J. Michalka’s “It’s Who You Are.” “It’s not how fast, it’s not how far, it’s not of cheers, it’s who you are.” “Learning to bend and not to break. Living to give more than you take. Dying to live, Living to try. Feet on the ground, dreams in the sky.” Yeah, and then there are songs from Fall Out Boy, Avicii and classics from Boston that go through my mind.
As practice begins, it is dark outside. Watching the sun come up is kinda cool. One of my first mornings swimming, I was taking a breath and thought I was dying and “seeing the light.” It was just the overhead lights in the pool area. Nothing dramatic, no CPR needed, no drowning scene. Since then, I’ve taken at least a half a dozen gulps of pool water and water up my nose. Gives new meaning to the term “feel the burn.” I’ve also found out that I don’t need to use a pull buoy as I have a natural drag on my body called extra weight. There have been days where the pool has a wonderful fog on it and the more we swim, the more fog we make. The fast lanes are really foggy. There have been beautiful sunrises and on occasion it rains. No lightning so it’s all good…we are already wet right? When doing backstroke it is neat to watch all the planes flying over and wondering where people are going. Swimming now isn’t so serious. It’s a judgement-free zone and everyone is there to swim, be healthier, and find their happy place.
Swimming leads me back to all those years ago when in 9th grade I tried out for the drill team. Not really surprising, I didn’t make it. Disappointing perhaps but it was to set a course of destiny that would forever change my life. After my shortcomings with pom-poms, I found myself trying out for swim team. There I was, my first day at the Boys and Girls Club pool after school where practice happened. Coach Tom put me in the first lane, thrown in to swim with the sharks; Martin Thoma, Firth Krueger and others. There I was, in all my glory, complete with a polka dot bikini top and swim skirt with the design looking like the three dots on a television screen. So, it was then and there, I set off on my first 25. Then my second which is when I found out really quickly this was a test to separate the men from the boys and girls from the women. I would promptly be run over. This is the moment I found out where the term “suck my wake” came from. I glided into the wall gasping for a breath only to accidentally grope one of the guys who ran me over. I stood up…alive, breathing, and feeling accomplished. I’m sure coach Tom was laughing hysterically inside. Well, I came back the next day, and the next and so forth. Coach Tom left and Coach Dave came on board. Crazy Coach Dave….wonder where he ever ended up? Then, Coach Andy came into the picture. He was awesome and made us work hard, but the reward was winning. We wanted to work hard for him, for the team, for ourselves. He yelled, pushed, whistled, and threw kickboards at our feet when we weren’t kicking. There were no excuses and we were loyal to him five hours a day during the school week and on Saturday for a few hours. In the summer, we swam in the outdoor city pool that left us freezing cold and with the taste of sucking pennies as the pool was old and had copper pipes. Memories! Great memories! We won meets! But while we were winning, we were learning life lessons that would and have carried I’m sure all of us into our adult life at some level. We were learning perseverance, commitment, team work, individual goal setting, how to win, how to lose, how to get psyched up, how to take direction, and how to push our limits physically and mentally. We would watch Rowdy Gaines, Mark Spitz, Shirley Babashoff and others and emulate their strokes and mannerisms.
I remember Jolie and her mom picking me up in their Beetle in the mornings at 5:00 a.m. The winters were so damn cold in that car. Two and a half hours in the morning and again after school. Home to eat, do homework and go to bed…that was my life and that of my team mates. Meets were fun, tiring, and sometimes tested our patience. My very first swim meet, I was set up to swim the 200 freestyle. Like it was yesterday, I remember going off the block and at the end of the pool was so sure of myself and doing my first ever flip turn. “Yeah, I can do that” I told myself. Well, sure I went into it the right way, but pushed off the wall all confused and ended up in someone else’s lane. Mortified, I swam back to the end and got out thinking I was sure to be disqualified. This little snotty nosed kid came up and in a “I’m so great” voice said “YOU CAN’T QUIT.” I wanted to throw him in the pool. Embarrassed I went and sat down. Everyone rallied around me and said “it’s ok.” Yep, that was pretty cool and shaking it off, prepared for my next race. Over the years, it would become evident that butterfly and long distance freestyle would be my events! We never quit again. Kim Fedosky…you were my idol. Thank you for pushing me in the fast lane, challenging me in butterfly and exposing me to awesome music. Jill Farnsworth, I feared you! You were an up-and-comer and chased us upper classmen like Pac-man. Erica Bowen, Barbara Wells, Peggy Taylor, Cathy Anderson, Danine Baker, Mignonne Agee, Kat Whitehead, Amy Thoma….my sisters from other mothers. Curtis Cumbie, Tim Brinner, John McFerrin, Strahan Massey….my brothers from other mothers. It’s great keeping up with you on Facebook. I remember drinking orange juice with raw eggs (nasty, what were we thinking? Oh, teenagers, we weren’t thinking), having great times at meets. Curtis, remember your parents driving us down the mountain to a meet in Little Rock and after eating a brown sugar pop tart I threw up in the drive thru at McDonald’s? Yeah, I do and I’ve never had a brown sugar pop tart since!! I could go on with the memories with all my peeps. That might be too incriminating for some and we wouldn’t want that at our age.
Now, as practice for the day winds down, the young kids start showing up. They are sleepy and some would rather be anyplace but the pool. Leaving the pool area, I thank parents for bringing their kids and tell them they will have a lifetime of memories. (both kids and their parents) Thanks to my mom for taking me to my first lesson and being there for meets including one that coach didn’t want me to go to early so I was my own team…hehe. Rebels!
Every practice takes me back a day or two and also makes me excited to show up next time. I’m still learning, meeting new friends, pushing myself physically and mentally and who knows…maybe there are still some records to be broken. Never say never! It’s who I Am!!