Tales from the Gym #4, The Speedo, part 3

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If you had told me, ever, that there would come a day when I sat in the privacy of my own home and watched instructional videos on YouTube where former Olympic coaches discussed the proper technique for the freestyle swimming kick, I would have been sorely tempted to administer a mental status exam right on the spot. You know, where a caring and concerned professional asks certain basic questions to determine whether you have lost your orientation as to person, time, and place – which is a fancy clinical way of saying that there are some very big holes in the screen door, the lights are on but nobody’s home, bats have taken over the belfry, the deck is no longer full, and you remain permanently with the fairies. Can you answer such simple questions as: what is your full name; what is the day of the week today; who is the current president of the United States of America. Of course, it’s most likely that there are members of my immediate family who could not answer at least one of those questions. Let’s say, perhaps, a family member who I gave birth to. Honestly, it’s highly likely that this person would miss 2 out of 3 of those questions; and the third could lead to a lengthy philosophical discussion about identity, power dynamics, and the assumptions we bring to bear on our understanding of such concepts as “life” and “self” in the first place. She’s a graduate student.

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ANYway, I am getting ahead of myself. When we left off, my brand new Speedo was still constricting the blood flow around my knees.

Once I have had my trip down memory lane regarding the gym locker room, it then occurs to me that in order to cadge this wonderful, zero-gravity swimming experience, I will have to actually wear a swimsuit. In public. With the very real possibility – no, certainty – that I will run into the people that I see in my private practice of therapy. While wearing a Speedo. Don’t get me wrong. The people who come to see me possess the motivation, and the courage, and the sheer guts, to examine their lives and themselves in the service of having it be better. They are my heroes. But mostly when we are all fully clothed.

Let me just mention that I am doing battle with my little black Speedo right after I have come from a Gym Workout. I have had all kinds of helpful digital readouts telling me that I have successfully maintained an average heart rate of 138 beats per minute for 40 minutes. Lights flashed at me regularly, alerting me to the digital opinion that I was overdoing it, and was approaching the heading-for-the-light zone. Still, by the time I manage to wrestle, wrench, twist and tug the Speedo, and install the material so that it is mostly covering those body parts that are supposed to be covered – well, I am lying on my bed, spread-eagle, drenched with sweat, in a state of exhaustion that 40 minutes on a treadmill could never hope to duplicate.

Once rested, I am so damn proud of myself for having gotten this swimsuit on that I immediately take some selfies. Which exactly two people will ever see. My daughter, a longtime swimmer who knows the drill, and my boyfriend, who has seen it all before. I’m so lit up with my accomplishment, and so not-ready to even consider what will be involved with getting the Speedo off again, that I decide I will just hang out in my house and do some pretend swimming, going from room to room demonstrating what I have learned on those helpful YouTube videos.

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Tales from the Gym, #3: The Speedo, part 2

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I know this Speedo is the right damn size, and yet, by the time I have figured out which holes to put my legs through, and gotten it up to approximately my knees, I am reminded of the deeply humiliating times that I have tried on jeans that are too small – way too small. You move around in ways you didn’t even know you could accomplish, and yet you know those babies ain’t going nowhere. I guarantee this experience makes even the most body-confident woman (wait – is there such a person?) immediately visualize a mental list of at least 623 things that are tragically wrong with her body, her life, her entire place in the universe.

As the brand-new Speedo hovers around my knees, I silently thank my lucky stars that I decided to try this little fucker on in the privacy of my own home, rather than – oh my god – the gym locker room. For now it occurs to me that there was one other excellent reason that I was so gleeful about abolishing the health club experience from my life for that wonderful 15 years: the locker room.
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While I was still busy avoiding the idea of swimming (and waiting for my eBay Speedo to arrive in the mail), I got a free trial week at a different local “Athetic Facility,” where I stuck my toes back into the fitness club waters by arriving there in my full regalia of workout clothes, hanging my ground-length down parka on a hook, and trying to convince myself that as long as I was going to sweat in the service of my health, I may as well have a very nice view of Lake Michigan. Forty minutes later, I put my parka back on and went back to the private confines and comfort of my own home to shower and change. I was delighted to see how many scores of other people did this same thing! Scores of students from the Affiliated University of this Athletic Facility walked right over in the full brutality of winter, wearing their shorts and running shoes!! And hung up their coats, did their thing and left!!

Alas, if you’re gonna swim, you’re gonna have to find yourself in the locker room.

Sigh. I recall a woman from my old gym. I can picture her standing in front of the mirror, doing her entire routine of hair drying/styling/coifing, and then skin care regimen, and then multiple layers of make-up – stark naked from the waist up. Showing off what was obviously a state-of-the-art boob job. Those girls were expensive, carefully planned and deeply tanned, and she wanted them to be seen. I never actually saw her working out, come to think of it; and for all I know, she just stood there in front of the mirror and did her routine over and over, all day.

Then there was the time that the mother of a teenager I worked with accosted me in the locker room at the precise second when I had emerged from the shower, returned to my locker, an let the towel drop. I was stark naked. She wanted to talk with me about her bill, the fact that she owed me a great deal of money. And she was crying.

 

 

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.

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