Tag Archives: swimming

My kind of exercise

A friend recently posted this graphic onto my Facebook wall:


While I’d much prefer to practice the violin for an hour than to run a mile, I’ve never been that interested in calories, or especially in counting them. I don’t need to lose weight. What I seem to need is harder to pin down.

Growing up I was more or less a stereotypical nerdy kid who spent most of her time reading and wasn’t good at, and didn’t like, sports. Being 2 years younger than my classmates, and a late bloomer, didn’t help either. I have a number of memories of school gym class that are probably best left unwritten about. My high school was relatively enlightened, however, and by 10th grade they allowed students to choose individual activities like weightlifting and swimming to meet the PE requirement, which I did in the company of a similarly non-athletic friend, and never looked back.

I’m also old enough to remember big discrepancies in athletic opportunities for girls vs. boys. Good feminist that I am, I’ve watched and applauded the change over the past 40 years or so. It seems to have been a positive development, at least for other people. (Go Carli Lloyd, you are awesome!) For me personally, though, I have to say it’s been rather mixed. Some friends my age have stories of discovering hidden athleticism in adulthood: they’ve found out they love dance, or aerobics, or yoga, or lifting weights. There’s Zumba, there’s spinning class, there’s HIIT. And a lot of people–a LOT of people–seem to love running. Whereas I have a dirty little secret: I am not one of those people. I’ve tried most of these activities and I still don’t like any of them. In this one area, I’m actually kinda nostalgic for the bad old days when I had an excuse.

I did manage to do one sort of athletic thing in high school: the breaststroke. Back then being able to do a decent breaststroke was enough to earn me a slot on the school swim team. Even better, I didn’t have to do any flip turns. I swam two events: the individual 100-meter breaststroke and the breaststroke leg of the medley relay. I usually came in either third or last, but I came in third enough times to earn a varsity letter. I still have that letter, and the jacket I wore it on.

But, except for the swimming test my alma mater, Princeton University, required me to pass as a freshman, and recreational splashing around in the pool, lake, or ocean with the kids, I haven’t really swum in over 30 years. Whenever I set out to try, I’m reminded of several things:

1. Chlorine. It irritates my skin, eyes, and nose, and turns my hair green. Forget contact lenses. One drop of chlorinated water and my eyes are on fire.

2. Cold water. Enough said.

3. Weird strokes that I can’t really do. Three or four of my childhood summers were spent at Audubon and Clearfield Recreation Centers in Williamsville, New York, struggling to learn how to do the front crawl, the stroke that some people refer to as “freestyle” and most people apparently refer to as, just, “swimming”. While I can now do a decent-looking front crawl for 1-2 pool lengths, I still don’t really understand why anyone would want to. (Especially when they could be doing breaststroke, sidestroke, or elementary backstroke.) And I will spare readers my feelings about the butterfly, except to point out that when I attempt to do it I look and feel like a whale beaching itself.

4. Goggles. I’ve never had a pair that didn’t leak or a way to dive in without having them fall off my head. And, see #1.

5. Flip turns. See #1 and #3. Breaststroke doesn’t use them. Another point for breaststroke! And finally:

6. Anxiety.  I have anxiety about most aspects of swimming, and especially about being underwater. I enjoy it to a point, but I get winded easily and when I feel like I can’t breathe it gets worse. I got trapped underwater during a senior lifesaving class, and failed it. I still occasionally have anxiety dreams about swim meets, too.

But here I am, in California, in an apartment complex with a pool. The past week I’ve been swimming in the afternoons before dinner, and perhaps surprisingly, I’ve been looking forward to it. I bought some prescription goggles a couple of years ago that I never used in Belmont, and they are surprisingly decent. I can actually see the end of the pool and not crash into it and jam my finger. I don’t dive in off the side or anything so radical as that, but they stay on as I breaststroke back and forth. And they only leak a little bit, in one eye. The chlorine in this pool isn’t too bad, and the water is warm.

I wish I could say I am loving it so much that I am not even hearing the voices that tell me I’m not swimming enough, not doing it intensely enough, that I probably still look like a beached whale, or at least like a dork out there doing these slow breaststroke laps. I even let those voices talk me into some front crawl laps, just to see, but I got tired pretty quickly and went back to breaststroke.

I’m just doing it while it’s fun. When it’s not fun anymore, I stop. And, the pool is especially beautiful at night.