It's one of those family stories that gets retold so many times you start to think you remember it firsthand. I was two years old, and we were at my grandparent's house, at the huge pool. I announced that I could swim, marched to the end of the pool where there was a submerged flight of steps from the edge into the shallow end, and began to make my way into the water. My father took off his watch while someone yelled at me to stop. I took the next step, and my father took off his shoes. Another step, more clothing. They thought I would get scared and come out, but no, I walked right in over my head and Dad had to jump in and rescue me. I don't even want to ponder how perfect a psychological snapshot it was, so let's just say it was rather typical behavior on my part.
I learned to swim shortly thereafter, and spent most weekends in that pool playing with cousins, diving for pennies, trying to swim the whole 60' length underwater without a breath, emerging hours later, shriveled and waterlogged. We had races, and I beat my male cousins until we were well into our teens. It was one of the few areas where I felt any competitiveness, and I was proud of being fast.
Now, fifty years later, I swim laps for exercise, and I don't hate it, but it's a chore nonetheless. I'm always struggling against my natural tendency to want to just sit on the couch and eat bonbons, and swimming is part of my arsenal in the war to be healthy and lead a well-balanced life. I've been losing this war for months now, but this week I got back in the pool at the sports center and began dutifully plodding away.
Yesterday I shared a lane with an extremely pregnant woman wearing a two-piece suit, so that her immense belly jutted out into the water as if it were a new form of marine mammal attached to an otherwise normal swimmer. And the really discouraging thing was, that as we swam, Ms. Whale-belly passed me! One of those subtle, invisibly private events that signals yet again that time has passed and taken the glories of my youth, such as they were, with it.
I can still picture my grandmother, well into her eighties, swimming a steady breaststroke, sporting a shower cap on her head so she wouldn't ruin her hairdo. So maybe instead of speed, that can be my new benchmark; to bring things full circle by keeping it up long enough to be infamous once again for my sheer tenacity of spirit.