Friday, January 15, 2010

I Blame Michael Phelps

There is something truly beautiful about an empty lap pool. The undisturbed water has a stillness that eludes life outside that space. The morning light bursts through the gym's glass wall and gives the water an eerie glow. This is a pure and perfect moment that is as brief as it is mesmerizing. It is reserved for the early risers who bravely cast aside extended sleep in pursuit of tranquility. As I enter my lane and displace the water for the first time, a ripple extends ahead of me. Gliding along I savor the feeling of being the only creature on earth. I know this will pass as other swimmers arrive. The others in pursuit of serenity will have to try again another day.

I began swimming last year as a way to connect with the excitement I felt watching Michael Phelps in the Olympics. Having a crippling fear of water and no knowledge of how to swim were not significant deterrents for someone as stubborn as I tend to be. I figured that anyone with tight shorts and a pair of goggles could become an Olympian. So what if Phelps and I are not exactly identical physical specimens. If you look at me from far away in the dark it is nearly impossible to tell us apart. Especially if I stand behind a tree.

Enrolling in swimming class was the first and most painful step toward my Olympic delusion. Having not been in a pool since the third grade I at least had the good sense to get some instruction. My class was filled with experienced swimmers so I was sure to lie to my instructor and tell her that I too could swim. Some little white lies are not so little. 30 seconds into our first lesson my deception was revealed. A bit of water in the lungs never hurt anyone. Except me of course. It could have been the skill of my instructor or perhaps my own tenacity but I did manage to learn to fling myself across the pool in a somewhat organized manner. I cast my water wings aside that day and never looked back. My strokes are ugly. My breathing needs some work. My flip turns? Well, let's just say that I am always glad to find the water's surface when my awkward flip turns have come to an end far too long after their beginning.

I now find myself in the pool each morning honing my technique. Starting each day in the water makes the long hours at work seem less taxing. While sitting at my desk I recall the first laps of the day when my muscles were protesting the decision to rise so early. The smell of chlorine on my skin is a reminder of the moment I looked at my watch and thought "just four more laps". If I listen very closely I swear I can still hear the echo of the pool long into the afternoon. I drift off and the world around me disappears as I kick just one last time.

Where will you be tomorrow morning? I know where I will be. I will rise early to arrive at the gym before they unlock the doors. I will take a deep breath before entering the pool to savor the aroma of the water. The stillness will break with my first stroke and peace will settle over me. In that moment I will be a swimmer.

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