Saturday, February 06, 2010


I've signed up for a new adventure. This summer, I'll be doing a race that is a run-swim-run. It's a 1K run in the sand, a 1K open ocean swim, and a 5K on the beach boardwalk. The running distances don't worry me---I can do a 5K without too much trouble. It's the swimming I'm going to have to work up to.

I grew up in Southern California, and my earliest memories are of swimming. And when I say earliest memories, I mean my very first memory is of a swim lesson, or, rather, sitting wrapped in a towel eating the candy my teacher bribed me with, watching my twin sister standing in the pool, wearing nothing but a diaper, arms wrapped around herself, bawling her eyes out. I even have a memory of thinking, 'Just do it and you'll get some candy.' I don't know what it is she was meant to do, I just know that I did it, and got the candy. My twin sister has a similar memory, so I know I'm not making this up. When I asked my mother why she thought our memories were so salient at such a young age (she claims she started us swimming when we were younger than 2), she says it was because it the lessons were so traumatic.

I think it was because I just really liked candy.

The upshot of the trauma, however, is that my sister and I became fairly strong swimmers. This is a must when you live in California and have a pool in your backyard. Fences are great and all, but my mother figured the best defense in keeping her kids safe was to teach them how to swim.

(I followed her example, by the way, and taught my son to swim at an early age. I was profoundly relieved at having done so when he fell off a dock at age 4, and was able to safely and easily swim to the shore. Seriously, folks. Teach your kids to swim. It's the only sport that can save their life.)

I never swam competitively, or anything, but I did have some amazing experiences swimming with Rick Hoyt in Walden Pond. It became a weekly summer ritual for us. Every Friday I would drive from his home in Boston to Concord, where I would unload him and his wheelchair down to the shore of the lake, and then I would swim with him across it. In retrospect, a lot of bad things could have happened, and when we started, I was probably not in good enough shape to really manage things safely. But we pressed on, and despite the raging ear infection I got from swimming in one of the most baceteria-filled bodies of water in Massachusetts, those summer days at Walden Pond are some of my best memories of living in Boston.

And so I going to try to get my swimming groove back. I'd like to come up with some cool cosmic reason for why I'm doing this, but the bottom line is that I've discovered that if I'm not training for an event, I won't stay motivated to exercise. Yeah, I know, you'd think that a life-threatening disease would be motivating enough, but, sadly, it's competition that really gets me going. Actually, it's not so much the competition--I don't care very much about speed or winning--it's really fear of embarrassing myself. It's not impending death, but making a fool out of myself that gets my butt off the couch. Sick? Twisted? Perhaps. But that's what works for me, so I'm going with it.

I picked a run-swim-run for 2 simple reasons. I can't train for a long running race again (my husband's new work schedule doesn't allow me to run in the mornings), and I don't have a nice enough bike to do a short triathlon. So, run-swim-run it is.

I started the training for the swim yesterday. I learned something. My arms are not as strong as my legs. Ouch. I have a long, long, LONG way to go.

Do you think my old swim teacher would be proud? Hope so. And maybe at the end of it all, I'll reward myself with some candy, for old time's sake.


Becky said...

That's FANTASTIC! If I could, I'd be there to cheer you on!

William Dunigan said...
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