Sunday, April 24, 2011
Swim or Sink
I made a terrible mistake between 30 and 60 years old. I gave up sport.
Gymnastics, football, basketball, Judo and kayaking all fell by the wayside. Complete collapse.
Since 1999, the deterioration has been even more precipitous. I rise before 7 AM each morning, walk a hundred feet, through the bathroom, through the kitchen, into my car, drive into the city, walk another hundred feet, through an elevator, and into my office, where I sit for 10 – 12 hours a day. By mid-evening, I stand from the office chair, drive home, huff through the kitchen and bathroom again, and into bed.
What a life.
If the degree of muscular atrophy in my heart is anything like that in my torso, arms and legs, I will succumb to heart failure the first time I need to respond quickly to an urgency or other sudden demand for movement.
Recurring episodes of gout now preclude walking or running as a cure. My joints hurt too damn much. The perfect excuse.
Three weeks ago, my doctor suggested swimming.
I don't swim. I flounder. Then I sink.
I used to be able to fake a crawl or breast stroke for a hundred feet or so, but it was all a put-on. I was just pretending. By the time I got to the raft or dock or other destination, my heart felt like it was going to explode as I gasped for air while trying to disguise my distress lest someone discover the secret.
Ironically, I absolutely love being in water. How absurd! I often wade out to neck depth in a lake and stand there for hours just staring at the trees and waves. Periodically, I ease forward face down into a 'dead-man's-float' and thrill at the sensation of flopping there, weightless, relaxed and silent. I'll put on a mask and dog-paddle along the shore just under the surface, observing fish and studying the vegetation.
Yet I can't swim.
This embarrassment came full force a few weeks ago when I faced the chore of driving my young son to his twice-a-week swimming lessons. I've never been one to just drop him off and return later, so I slipped my shoes off, waddled to poolside and read for an hour, sneaking the occasional glance without distracting him.
Around the fifth lesson, curiosity set in.
The teenagers doing the coaching were enthusiastic and well meaning enough, but my analytical bent noticed most of the students were really struggling. They were being asked to repeat length after length with virtually zero personal instruction for stroke improvement.
Something was wrong. I found myself cringing and tense at their frustration until I involuntarily almost shouted to myself, “Is that what happened to me?” “Son-of-a-b---!”
I couldn't wait to get home and onto my computer. Stroke analysis! What would Mr. Google have to offer? Soon the links began streaming down the monitor. Hundreds of them. I felt dizzy. Another massive overload.
Then I spotted one that looked downright silly. “Total Immersion Swimming ”, it said. Must be a Canadian joke, right? Like French Immersion? How the hell else can you swim, other than being immersed? And people were paying for this nonsense?
Couldn't resist. 'Click'. Hmmm. You Tube.
And there it was. After all these years. Absolute grace! (Follow the link and see for yourself...)
Some guy, I guessed in his late twenties or early thirties, about six foot six, was slipping through a pool's glass-surfaced water like a frigging knitting needle. I'd never seen anything like it. The peace. The ease. And the bugger was really moving! I mean he was generating a bow wave off the top of his head you could have surfed on.
That was the first hint.
He wasn't leading with his face, nor his chest, nor his shoulders. All I could see was barely the crown of his head and a bit of one shoulder peaking out of the water. Everything else was submerged, straight as as a needle, totally still, yet slicing through the water like a damned torpedo from hell!
Or a dolphin. Or a beluga. Or a ring seal.
When I later found out he was pushing fifty and only about five foot eight, I nearly choked. No way! And apparently this stuff can be learned?
Despite being closer to 70 than 60, I made up my mind then and there I would learn this stunt myself and save my son the decades of apprehension and embarrassment about swimming that I had so long concealed.