I’ve spent the last few summers hanging out at the side of the pool, watching an infinitely patient swim instructor teach my kids the basics of working with water. I learned to swim at my daughter’s age, but she’s much better than I was because I started her at about 4 years old. After I learned the basics, I stopped, and I never really did anything sporty again.
As both she and her brother started school back up a few weeks ago — yes, our school does start early — I thought about what I could do with my time beyond cramming it with more work. I decided I needed to work on myself.
The last few weeks were adventurous. I tried kayaking. I tried a golf lesson. I thought about trying lap swimming. It turns out swimming won out as a repeat occurrence.
So, I bought a new swimsuit. It was professional, covering all the bits to make it highly clear to all that I was not here for a good time; I was here to work out. I had made a reservation for a lap lane, and I sat in the solar-covered parking lot to hype myself up. There were a lot of older people slowly coming out of cars from all angles. There were a lot of floral patterns, a lot of dad shorts and a lot of gray hair.
Remembering that I hadn’t done my roots in a few weeks and quarantine had given me some fluff, I hoped I could pass for mid-to-late 40s. No such luck. I passed for a young’un because I couldn’t swim nearly as well as the other three in the lap lanes with me, who were easily twice my age.
I watched the two men in the next lane fly through the water, one holding a pull buoy (the name I just had to Google) to increase his arm power. Ooof. The older lady in my lane was barely 5 feet tall and round. She reminded me of my Oma, with a circular face I share, and she gave me a stern, but not unfriendly, nod when she entered our lane. After I tried to remember the breaststroke I learned 30 years ago and then dog paddled and then floated on my back while I wheezed, I took a breather on one end. Her curiosity must have gotten the best of her because she floated with me for longer than a few seconds.
“You’ll have this lane in a minute,” I said.
“Oh?” She replied.
I told her it was my first time doing lap swim.
“Oh,” she said.
She looked over the water and back at me. “But you’ll improve. It’s just time. Just back and forth. You got this.” She made a slight victory fist.
I got out at the half-hour mark, shaking and still wheezing, even though the reservation was for an hour. I promptly went to buy earplugs, a cap and a nose plug. I watched some YouTube videos. I emailed my kids’ teacher to ask for lessons. The next time I went, my same swim buddy was there, and I got to work.
I’ve had two thoughts about swimming. One, I realized that I wasn’t inhaling enough air when I turned on my side. I realized, while gulping for air, that in general I live in a state of shallow breathing. What else in my life am I holding my breath for and not inhaling fully for more power?
This morning, the second thought came when I realized that even inhaling more deeply, I may still need more lung capacity than I have now. Just because I’m trying doesn’t mean that I will have the perfect ability yet, and I need to have compassion for myself. However, I’m the only one who can push myself to do the work to be more than I was, but I need to recognize my limits to grow.
Even the most top-tier athletes must listen to another part of their bodies — their brains — to make the right decisions because it’s them who have the front row seats to know the tools available. When we question experts on their work — whether athletes like Simone Biles or scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci — we fail to realize our capacities to trust in truth not evident to us, but still truth that has come from decades of dedication and training that we do not all share.
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She is also the Executive Director of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and can be contacted at [email protected] To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.