In August of this year, I hurt myself while being an idiot. After removing and replacing a king size bed and sleeping on the new mattress for just one night (and not giving my spine time to adjust), I drove sixteen hours to attend a concert. This was all more than my lower back could handle, which protested by twisting itself into a painful knot and telling my legs, “No, you do not have permission to move normally, and without excruciating pain.”
To get back on the road to wellness, my doctor and physical therapist recommended that I start swimming, both for the natural traction it provides to my compressed and scoliotic spine, and for the aerobic exercise. “No problem,” I said, “I basically grew up in a YMCA, and I used to be a life guard—I can do the water!” So, after obtaining a therapeutic pass at the town recreation center, I went down to the public pool, ready to dive in and knock out some laps, just like the old days.
Reality hit me, like a strong blast of chlorine in the face, as soon as I walked through the double doors into the pool room. I was not a pre-teen child at the YMCA, unaware of the nuances of my environment, or a 20-something lifeguard, too emboldened by my own strength and confidence to care. No, I was a 43 year-old human marshmallow, slouching my way into a situation for which I was wholly unprepared.
Swimming as a young person is a very different experience than swimming as an adult. Here are some things I have learned in the past 3 weeks or so venturing back into the world of water athletics:
Swimming costs a lot of money and time. My annual pass to the pool was $250 dollars. This is a quarter of a thousand dollars, people. Just to get wet. Then there is the time it takes to swim: packing the swim bag; driving to the pool; showering before swimming; actually swimming for an hour; showering after swimming; drying off; getting dressed; and going home or to work. Easily, it takes 10 hours of time for every minute you actually spend in the water.
You need a lot of gear. All the shit you need to swim is mind-boggling. Here is the list of things I currently have or am planning to get: spandex swim suit; goggles; anti-fog spray for goggles; earplugs; swim cap; flip-flops; fitness tracker for counting lengths/laps; giant towel; waterproof headphones; small bottles of soap and shampoo; chlorine-neutralizing moisturizer; and a giant bag to put all of it in.
There is no body shame at the pool. This has been a plus for me. As someone with self-diagnosed body dysmorphic disorder, it doesn’t matter what kind of shape I’m in. I always hate my body. When I look in the mirror, I see a water pig, not Aquaman.
Imagine my horror when I realized that my Old Navy swim trunks were not going to cut it for lap swimming, that I was going to have to wear SPANDEX. Yes, it was terrifying stuffing my carcass into a pair of Nike water spanks, and walking out into the pool room. But you know what? Nobody seemed to care, and if they did, they were polite enough to not point and laugh at me— even the teenage lifeguards. For those of you who do not have a pathologically distorted body image, which is tied to your sense of self-worth, you may not understand how freeing this was for me.
Fat floats. It is true. Staying afloat and swimming as a portly mid-lifer is much easier than it was as a nineteen year-old with five percent body fat. I am amazed at how much less effort it takes to stay buoyant. Bring on the chalupas and milkshakes!
Water distorts the fabric of space time. I don’t fucking understand. I can walk five miles in 1 hour and fifteen minutes— that’s 26,400 feet. In the same time, I can barely swim a nautical mile, or 6,076 feet.
What. The. Living. Fuck. Can someone explain this to me? Don’t bother. Whatever you say is not going to make any sense.
Water messes up time and space somehow. The end.
I can’t count when I’m in water. No matter how hard I concentrate, I cannot keep track of the number of laps I swim. Somewhere in the middle of a length, my mind will wander— Oh, look, some weird shit floating on the bottom of the pool! Maybe that IS shit. Gross…—and I lose count of where I’m at. This happens every time I swim. I am certain this phenomenon is related to how water distorts the space/time continuum. Solution? Spend hundreds of dollars on a swim-tracking smart watch. (I’m going with the Apple Watch.) Once I get it, I can stop counting and focus on the things that matter, like figuring out if that shit is actually shit.
Beware the Aggressive Swimmer. Why do you have to be like that, bro? (And yes, it’s always a guy.) I’m not here to race you. We’re not racing. There is no “We” here, sorry. I have a bad back, and I’m endlessly swimming back and forth to try and make that better. I’m happy for you that you can do the swimming back and forth faster than me—and that you can do that dolphin thing where you jump out of the water—but I don’t care. Really. Let’s stop the non-consensual racing, k?
You cannot escape the cold. It’s always waiting for you, lurking. Going from outdoors to indoors, showering, into and out of the pool, the locker room, even cold spots in the water. If you want to swim, get comfortable with being cold. No way to escape it. In some ways, I’ve come to appreciate it, in the way that being cold reminds you of how wonderful heat is, and how lucky we are when we can be warm.
There you have it.
I am still working my way back into swimming and learning how, as an adult, to navigate pools and their people.