Necessary partners

I swam yesterday at the Kroc Center.

There’s something about doing lap after lap — and the 25-yard length achieves this effect more than does a 50-yard pool — that brings the swimmer into something like a meditative trance.

Between breathing and the repetitive and — if done right — well-timed flip turns, every 11 strokes give or take, the body falls into a rhythm where the rhythm becomes one’s sole focus. Almost all but that rhythm is tuned out.

Breathe, stroke stroke stroke, breathe, stroke stroke stroke, breathe, stroke stroke stroke, breathe, stroke stroke; turn. SLAP! You feel your ankles and lower calves hit the water with a satisfying completion of one length.

Repeat for 100 yards, rest; then 200 yards, rest; then 400 yards, rest…

The lifeguards, rotating every 15 minutes, wear red one-pieces or shorts and have skin made golden by hours under the Texas sun. They are only kids — probably college students at the oldest. The manager is in his late 20s or early 30s. They watch me because they have to, but maybe they watch me extra closely thinking, “I wonder when this old guy is going to push himself too hard and I have to drag him out. I wonder how much he weighs.”

That thought vanishes as I concentrate on my breathing.

I’m out of shape. Or maybe I’m merely pushing myself to a place I’m out of shape for. I start to consider stopping short of the next yardage I’m trying to reach. But I relax and tell myself, “I love swimming; I love to see the water rush by my mouth as I turn my head to breath; I love to feel the water move beneath my body and watch my arms extend out in front of me.”

It’s an activity — swimming — that’s not mimicked anywhere else in my life. Walking, running, lifting weights, even push-ups and sit-ups, are all found elsewhere in some form. When in the water, one either treads water (also not mimicked anywhere), floats, sinks, or swims. Water and swimming are, at some point, necessary partners.

When finished with my desired laps, I get out of the pool and feel both the hot sun and also the promised fatigue in my arms and chest and back.

I dry off and walk toward the locker room, hoping my upper body leads the way while also self-consciously shielding my stomach with a towel. It is that part of me and everything attached to it that would justify a lifeguard’s earnings, and then some.


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