15 January 2006

Stroke me

Ah, my shoulder muscles are sore, and I am so happy. I have finally made it back to swimming laps, back to exercising, back to changing out of a wet bathing suit in front of other people. If that's not dedication, I don't know what is.

First of course I had to scrape all the winter growth of hair off my legs, which in itself was a lovely sensation -- seems like it's summer almost -- and which will feel so good as I slide between freshly laundered sheets tonight. Ahh, smooth skin. Nothing like it.

The pool wasn't as cold as I feared it would be, or maybe it was just so cold outside that it was balmy by comparison in the pool room. I shared a lane with a friendly older gentleman who swam his laps with the same thoughtful deliberation and prudent lack of haste as I was employing, and we chatted every now and then when we happened to be pausing on the same end of the lane at the same time.

He asked me if I swam competitively, because my stroke was so "polished." Mind you, it's been over ten years since I swam laps in a pool. I'm telling you, that comment almost got that 70-year-old a kiss right then and there. No, I never swam competitively, but I took swim technique lessons all through college and swam laps almost every day while I had access to the health center at school, a glorious facility that I failed to properly appreciate at the time. Like so much else.

And although I think he was just being nice, I was gratified to feel the old stroke coming right back to me, including all the insane little details, like at exactly what angle the hand should enter the water, index finger first, the importance of rolling slightly side to side, and extending the arm just that extra bit from the shoulder before bringing the arm down under the torso and through the water in an efficient, bent-elbow L-shape.

That sort of attention to technique was one of the things I always loved about swimming laps. I loved spending hours just focussing on shit like that -- the angle, the roll, the stretch. It's why I loved tai chi, too, but swimming is in water -- it's in this marvelously warm, aqueous environment, sound muffled and eyes fixed on the serene pool floor, blissfully solitary even when sharing a lane with several other people, steady and careful and meditative.

Racing as a swimmer never appealed to me -- all that thrashing and splashing about seemed like a perversion of the form, the technique thrown over to the exertion of speed. But I do feel the need for a goal now that I'm back into it, and I'm wondering if I should register for one of the open-water swim races this summer, just to give myself something to work toward?

We'll see. But I know one thing: I will be first in the pool again tomorrow morning, no matter how much my muscles stiffen tonight as I sleep, as I dream of sliding back and forth through cool, sweet water.

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