Tales from the Gym, #2: The Speedo

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Ok, ok. I will try swimming. For more than 2 years, my doc has been gently asserting that this activity would be a wondrous way to get an all-around workout with the least amount of strain on my degenerating joints. I steadfastly ignored him, for what I thought were a number of excellent reasons: first of all, I live in an inexcusably cold climate, and jumping into a giant pool of cold water in the roughly six or seven months of the year when it is unlivable here – well, that’s just crazy. Secondly, as I mentioned, snipping up my old gym membership card remained a glorious memory; and swimming would obviously require a pool that was located in one of those…places. And last but not least, well, I can barely swim.

The thought of it immediately brings to mind a friend who is Very Serious Athlete, the type who can not only do, but excel, at nearly everything. She tells the story of how one day, when in the pool doing her effortless laps, she decided she would try the butterfly stroke. Just one pool length, she told herself, as she hadn’t done the fly for years. She made it close to one length, but not quite, and when she gave up and poked her head out of the water, she found herself nearly eye-to-eye with the lifeguard on duty, who was crouched at the end of my friend’s lane, a hair’s breath away from making the rescue dive, with her full regalia of lifesaving gear and devices in hand. Yep, I think to myself. That’s gonna be me.

However, I am of the very firm belief that it is critically important to take on challenges throughout one’s life that stretch one immensely, are therefore appropriately and deeply humbling, and where simply living through it indicates complete success. My children seem to have inherited this trait, which I suppose is how they found themselves walking 2,173 miles a number of years ago, brother and sister together, the full length of the Appalachian Trail.  They began at Mt. Katahdin, Maine and ended five months later at Springer Mountain, Georgia,  where they walked from the woods, casual as could be, into my sobbing arms.  I was standing in a parking lot holding two bags, one containing 3 bottles of champagne, and the other — 6 cans of whipped cream (for whipped cream high-fives, of course).

I’ve done very little swimming for exercise in my life, but I’ve done enough to know that you simply cannot swim laps in a regular bathing suit. Even the most comfortable, favorite, well-fitted suit you may own will be in your way in a hundred different places once you are actually trying to swim, and that’s if it stays on at all. Which it quite often does not. I need a Speedo.

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Anyone who knows me will tell you that I never try anything on in stores. I know what size Speedo I wear; I log on to eBay and feel that deep sense of customer satisfaction that comes from nabbing a $70 Speedo for a mere $20, AND there’s free shipping. From my days as “Equipment Manager” of my kids’ youth swim team (equipment consisting of, um, team swimsuits, period), I have watched a large array of children and teenagers putting on brand new racing Speedos. So I am not surprised when my my shopping triumph arrives in the mail, I take it out of its plain white Speedo wrapper, and am confronted with a crazy mishmash of material that has holes and straps and openings everywhere, but is no more than 2” x 4” in its entirety. The brand new wonder has no less than FOUR tags describing the technology that has been brought to bear on the Speedo Endurance Flyback Training Suit that I am holding in my hands.

I put both hands inside the Speedo. I pull it in every direction with all my might. I will sum up: a suit that is designed to hold up through a minimum of 10 hours a week swim training (as I learn from the tags!) in a miasma of chemicals under conditions of constant friction is a garment that comes out of the box with absolutely no stretch whatsoever. Suddenly the mental picture of all those girls doing the most amazing and jaw-dropping gyrations in order to try on their team swim suits comes back to me. I always thought it was just because competitive swimmers have this folklore that you cannot swim your fastest unless your suit is at least one size too small. Preferably more. This made a certain amount of sense to me, as I watched elite girl swimmers in suits so unbearably tight, they were pulling their straps down before they were fully out of the water. Well, sure, who wouldn’t want to get out of the water as fast as you possibly could before losing all sensation in your fingers, for god’s sake.

Moose in a swimming pool

Tales from the Gym, #1

A man trains at the Kachalka outdoor gym on the banks of river Dniper in Kiev

The day that I cancelled my gym membership – a good 15 years ago – was one of the most joyous days of my life. My daughter insists that every single time she goes to a gym – any gym in any city – she walks through the front door and has an immediate sense that something really, really good is going to happen. I love my daughter passionately; but this strikes me as very nearly psychotic.

My ex-husband and I joined our local gym towing along an infant. We dutifully went three times a week, doing a prescribed combination of strength training and cardio. Now that I am facing down my 60th birthday later this year, this strikes me as hilarious and disheartening. A high point of each week is my Sunday, wherein I putatively help my kids out by “babysitting” my adored foster grandson, and thereby get a strong dose of the miraculous wonder that comprises the world of a two-year-old. However, going out of my way to locate any additional exercise on these days is a preposterous idea. Taking care of him for a six-hour stretch is my workout, and I spend much of the day hoping I will have enough remaining strength to carry him up the long flight of stairs that ends my stint. In fact, when I first began taking care of him, I came home early Sunday evening, sat in my favorite chair with my Sunday paper, and was absolutely sure that I was dying. Terminally ill. A goner. There could be no other possible explanation for the level of my exhaustion, the depth of which was awesome and terrifying. Must. Get. Food. Important. To. Brush. Teeth.

Through sheer force of will I remained nearly-awake until 9:00.

The thought of doing anything on Sunday evening – even though I was invariably back home no later than six o’clock – was entirely out of the question. And to think there was a time when I did this all day long, every day, and sought out MORE exercise!?

For the ensuing 15 years since I gleefully snipped my old gym membership card into little teeny pieces, I have been a runner, of sorts. But a vast array of medical appointments involving all kids of thumping noises, radioactive dyes, extraordinarily unnatural body positions, little cameras being put in little orifices – you get the idea – have resulted in me having a high degree of technology to verify that I am in excellent health. Except for one thing: a significant amount of “wear and tear” degeneration, strange bone growth, and good old-fashioned arthritis, that sprawls through my back and hips.

My running days are over.

Two weeks ago, I joined a gym. Watch for the stories to prove it.

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