Friday, October 14, 2016

The Magical Transformative Powers of the Pool....


I watch him hobble onto the elevator, baffled. He looks like Super Swimmer Man, but…?Could this be him? He can barely walk as he shuffles onto the elevator. What happened?

In the pool he is a miracle. He stands on the deck for several moments, stretching his lean body and flexing his long arms. He dives into the pool, speedy and eloquent as he zips past me to the other side of the pool. His stroke is strong and mighty. He has both technique and lyricism in the water. I marvel at him whenever we swim side by side.

So tonight, when I see this hobbling shuffling slight little man get on the elevator, I am in disbelief. Can it really be the same person? I know that water is transformative. That people who have difficulty on land are in paradise when floating, but the dramatic difference here takes me aback.
I climb the stairs, shaking my head, thinking I must be mistaken.

At the top of the stairs, the elevator doors slide open. He shuffles off the elevator, waves to me, “I thought that was you,” he grins hobbling up alongside me. I slow my step. I hadn’t thought it was him, but I don’t tell him this, just nod, “The pool was nice tonight,” is all I can come up with, my standard rapture.

“Yes, yes, it was. I haven’t seen you in a while. Do you still swim in Oakland?”
“Yeah, I usually go to the Oakland Y on Wednesdays, but tonight I headed up here to Hilltopia for the lap swimming. It was busy!”
He chuckles, “Yeah, a little.”
I remember the preponderance of testosterone tonight in the pool. Super Swimmer Man, of course, though now I see he has used all his hormones up. (And maybe this is it? He is so wiped out after swimming that he has aged 20 years?) But there were also two young tattooed hipsters, one bun head, one goateed, who took up a lot of space with butterfly and unnecessary displays of splashing. Also a non-swimmer swimmer guy next to me who splashed too much because this was the only way he could get across the pool.

And then me. I felt very feminine and outnumbered. And Super Swimmer Man confirms this for me when he repeats, “Yeah, I thought it was you. I’d recognize your stroke anywhere.” He grins, doesn’t elaborate.
I’ve heard this before over the years in various more specific complements: “You have a very elegant stroke’ is one of my favorites from the handsome Chinese lifeguard at Temescal Pool 30 years ago. Well, of course I remember that one!
So, tonight, when Super Swimmer Man comments on my ‘recognizable stroke’ I just smile and nod as we head out into the dark parking lot.

He starts to veer from me, as he tells me how he only swims on M/W/F or Tue/Th/Sat. I understand, I say. “Yeah, I can’t do it anymore,” he muses, not depressingly, just philosophically. “I have to pace myself.”

I wonder what his injury is. Or maybe it is just the body wearing out. Not wanting to swim every day. I know my body protests when I swim too many days in a row. Like when I was in Hawaii and swam 8 days in row, two times a day. It was worth it, but my neck and back were sore at the end of the trip.
So, tonight, as he starts off into the parking lot, I stop him, “What’s your name?” I ask. “It’s so silly that we don’t know each other’s names after all these years we’ve been swimming together.”
He chuckles softly, holds out his hand formally to shake mine, tells me his name. One I never would have guessed. I tell him mine. He doesn’t repeat it. Just calls out to me as I head down to my car, “You have the most recognizable stroke. I’d recognize it anywhere!”

I smile to myself. Yes, and I’d recognize his, too. In the pool. But not on land. On land, he’s a different person. We don’t need names in the water. We know each other by our strokes.

His is strong and powerful and speedy. Mine is elegant and smooth and unique.
The water transforms us. The water invigorates us….. The water is magic…..
What else could take a tired, slow, bent old man and transform him into a young, strong whippersnapper!

No longer baffled, I stumble down to the car, shifting my heavy swim bag, breathing in the cool, night breeze....