Swimming is my version of “it’s like riding a bike.” I think you could drop me in a pool in my sleep and, if I was near the wall, my body would do a flipturn before I even woke up. Who knows how many of them I have done in my lifetime?
I don’t remember learning to swim. Legend has it that my mom swam laps the day before I was born. I do remember deciding to join the swim team. I had been taking gymnastics for a year and was slated to repeat the beginner level the following year. I wasn’t built for gymnastics. But the summer in between those two school years, I conquered the highest level of swim lessons the YMCA offered, so the next step was to join the team. My mom, wisely not wanting to spend her days carting her child across town, said I had to choose between the two. My 8-year-old brain somehow had wisdom beyond its years and selected swimming. It was the right choice.
I had this shirt.
When I swim my mind goes quiet. I’m usually counting my strokes, or keeping track of the laps, or humming to myself. In high school I used to conjugate French verbs while I swam. I also liked to do fractions: I’m swimming 500 yards, and I’m on the 6th lap out of 20, so I’m 3/10 of the way done.
I spent many, many weekends like this:
Yeah, no one looks good in a swim cap.
And many, many more hours that way. I never could have gone to summer camp because summer was when we swam two-a-days. 7-9 in the morning and 4-6 in the afternoon, plus weights after that. I was very tan, and very fit. I never had the shopping-for-a-bathing-suit anxiety because I practically lived in one.
I’m glad I have a place to swim again, even if I’m only going once a week. Rowdy Gaines’ voice narrates my workout. When I botch a turn and my feet barely hit the wall, I hear him getting all worked up. “SHE MISSED THE TURN. SHE BARELY GOT ANY BOOST FROM THAT WALL. LET’S SEE IF SHE CAN CATCH BACK UP.” I think of how Michael Phelps won a race with his goggles leaking because he knew how many strokes he took. I’m pretty consistent like that too: 14 strokes of backstroke, then flip. 15 to finish. The water feels good to me. I’m glad I’m a swimmer.