There is nothing fun about getting in a pool on a January day. I’m here at the aquatic center along with the regulars who swim while their kids practice with the swim team. I always inch in, starting first by standing on the tile on the edge of the pool, then stepping down to the gutter ledge, then sitting on the tile, then putting my feet and calves in while I hyperventilate quietly to myself before taking a big gulp of air and pushing myself in so that I can push off the wall immediately and start swimming to warm up. I’ve noticed the other “I’m here for the exercise” people also inch in. The serious swimmers, though, the brave ones, the ones who do butterfly — they always dive in. They don’t even dip a toe first.
Like the other “I’m here for the exercise” swimmers, I swim 30 minutes max. I check the minutes and seconds when I finally shove off into the pool — 5:36:17 this morning — and then I aim for 25 minutes. Except today I only went 23 I think. It’s my first day back in a while. That’s what I tell myself.
Meanwhile, as I write this at 6:43 am (1 hr 7 minutes later, if you don’t feel like doing math), the serious swimmers — the ones who do butterfly and who dive in without dipping a toe — are still swimming while I sit in the bleachers up above, showered and fed. And not only are they doing butterfly right now, as I type, they’re pulling parachutes while they do it, God bless em. I make sure not to share a lane with them when the pool is full. They’re intimidating. Plus they take up a lot of space with all that fly.
I used to feel bad that I wasn’t doing more like those people. “My entire swim is shorter than their warmup!” “Maybe I should do another stroke besides freestyle.” “Maybe I should dive instead of inch.” But you know what? I don’t really care anymore.
I told our teenage son yesterday that when I was his age, I cared an awful lot what other people thought of me, or how I appeared to others, or what I should be doing. There wasn’t a lot of Andrea in those decisions; there wasn’t a lot of “What do I want?” I kept feeling that way for a good 30 years, and if I’m honest, I still do about some things. But about this? About whether I should swim more or a different way because someone better than me is doing it that way? Nah. As I age I think a lot more about my motivations — why am I doing this? What do I want? And there’s no question on this one: I’d rather get in the minimum amount of exercise I need to eat desserts and drink cocktails, then cut it off there so I can get out of the pool and come up here and write.
P.S. After I published this, I wondered why on earth did I title this “5:27am at the aquatic center” if I got in the pool at 5:36? Then I realized 5:27 is when we pull into the parking lot. I haven’t had my coffee yet. Too many numbers this early in the morning.