Swimming Surprises

I know we all have those dreams that are so realistic that we’re just shocked when we wake up, but do you ever have the opposite happen? Where you have to stop and really assess whether what’s going on around you is real? I don’t mean the theory that we’re all living in a simulation, but I guess if that’s your jam it could apply here, too.

This morning (and over the last couple weeks) I’ve considered writing about my latest swimming exploits, even though that’s mostly a self-indulgence as those posts don’t perform very well. It’s not always about the views, after all.

I’ve written before about how I enjoy swimming laps occasionally for exercise and how I think I’ve finally found a pretty good time to do that when the pool isn’t too busy but also isn’t the buttcrack of dawn. I’m not especially fast, but when I silently compare myself to other swimmers in the pool (albeit, most of them are twice my age), I’m quite a bit faster than they are, and I’ve particularly enjoyed tracking my progress with my Apple Watch.

I had gotten to a point, though, where I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to improve my speed much more without significant change, like actual athletic training specifically designed for swimmers (which I don’t really want) or learning how to do a flip turn that most of us only see on the Olympics.

When Kalen and I first started swimming at the Y, I tried once or twice to do a flip turn. After removing half the swimming pool from my sinuses, decided I didn’t really need to learn such fancy tricks, especially since I’m really good at abandoning pursuits that don’t come naturally to me. I hate to fail, or worse, unintentionally look like an idiot. Or more accurately, become aware that I unintentionally look like an idiot. Looking like an idiot on purpose is fine, and I’m sure I unknowingly look like an idiot plenty, but the shame of knowing I look stupid is a very real roadblock for me.

We’ve been watching Abbott Elementary (it seems everyone is; it’s getting great acclaim and it’s a really great show), and a few weeks ago, there was an episode where the main character, Janine, had to admit to a colleague that she wasn’t good at something (science, in this case), and wanted to stop trying to learn, but eventually realized that failing and learning from the failure is what science is all about. You’ll never get better if you don’t try, fail, and learn from your mistakes.

I know my summary is kind of Sesame Street in my retelling; the original content was way better, but you get the picture.

We had a cold snap a few weeks ago, and the weather seems to have erased the thought of swimming (even in an indoor, heated pool) from most people’s minds, and as a result, the pool has been much emptier, which means my greedy little heart is happy that I don’t have to share a lane. I was blissfully swimming and my mind wandered to the lessons from Abbott, and as a self-proclaimed supporter of science and the child of a science teacher, it became clear: I would never learn to do the flip turn if I didn’t practice it, and since there were only about three other people who could witness my inevitable sputtering, flailing, and failing, this was my chance.

I’m not one of those people who video my workouts because I think that’s kind of weird, and I’d probably die of embarrassment anyway (see: proof that I unintentionally looked like an idiot), but I bet there would have been some good comedy material in my swim that day. I got a lot of water in my nose. When turning at the shallower end of the lane, I scraped my knee on the bottom. At one point my turn got away from me and I veered not down the center of the lane but dangerously close to the wall.

I also almost drowned but not in any way I had expected.

I’m generally pretty good at multitasking, but there were several things requiring my concentration simultaneously: flipping at the right distance from the wall (not so close that I crack my head open, but not so far that I can’t reach the wall to push off); having enough air for the maneuver; using some of that air to keep from totally filling my nasal cavities with pool water; and actually flipping and righting myself. It was enough that I experienced a disconnect with my autonomous systems. After a few dozen flip attempts (with varying levels of success), my stomach was beginning to hurt. I approached the end of the pool and flipped again. It was hurting worse. It wasn’t cramping, and I didn’t feel nauseous, but I was definitely uncomfortable. I turned my head to the side to inhale, but instead, the longest, loudest belch of my life forced its way up my throat and out my mouth. I didn’t have time to inhale on that stroke, let alone squeak out a startled, “Excuse me!”

Have you seen the videos of people trying the Sprite challenge? It’s one of those viral internet trends where people try to do something they really shouldn’t, in this case drink a whole bottle of Sprite without burping and they always end up with a comically horrific belch. I hadn’t had any Sprite, but that was the kind of burp I did across the splashy, echo-y pool. I half-expected it to generate a pool-sized tsunami. I don’t know if the other swimmers heard it, but I’d be astounded if the lifeguard missed it. He probably thought I’d been possessed by a demon, and we jumped right to the projectile vomit bit, but there was, thankfully, only air in my expulsion.

And because I am easily amused, especially by gas-related noises, my own laughter followed, as involuntarily as the burp itself. And that was how I almost drowned, laughing at my own burp. The near-drowning wasn’t enough to draw attention, but it was even funnier when about 10 minutes later I did it all again, despite my best efforts.

When I go to the zoo, the sea lions are my favorite animals to watch. They swim such grace and agility, and look like they’re having the best time. I’ve long fantasized about how freeing it must feel to move like that. I wonder if I accidentally cashed in a wish with a tricky genie, wishing I could be a little more like a sea lion when I swim, and instead of granting me that graceful motion, the genie just made me sound like a sea lion when I’m in the pool.

sound not included

I’ve gotten to practice a few more times since then, and I’ve seen some improvements each time. The next time I set a personal record for number of laps in an hour (104!) and didn’t unleash any tsunami-generating burps. This week I was running on less sleep and took it a little slower. I did lose control a little once and hit my head on the bottom of the pool coming out of a turn, but my ego was injured more than anything else, and I still completed 100 laps in the hour. My fatigue had my concentration wavering a bit and I swallowed more air than I should have, but I was able to suppress my sea lion impression this time. There’s also a new metric showing up in the Apple Watch workout statistics called the SWOLF. I had to look it up and the explanation of the name was so stupid that it made me a little angry, so I’ll spare you that, but it boils down to an efficiency rating of your swim. Since incorporating and practicing the flip turn, my efficiency has slowly and steadily improved each time, which is both exciting and encouraging, even if it’s not something I’ll ever use outside of personal exercise.

I waffled on whether to write any of this; I know it’s not particularly exciting to many people, so if you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you. I wanted to have a record of my accomplishments, but that’s not much for anyone else, but the draft was in my head and it wouldn’t get out unless I wrote it. Anytime I start drafting a post (mentally or otherwise), I also start thinking about pictures and gifs I can include to liven things up. My first swimming post was a struggle because I don’t take pictures when I’m swimming and I try to minimize the use of stock footage because, for the kind of writing that I do, it feels a little bit like cheating. Sometimes I end up sifting through old pictures I’ve taken to find something relevant. That happened this time in my search for sea lions, so to reward you for sticking with me this far, enjoy my computer’s misidentification of subjects:

I had at least three actual photos of sea lions, and two of a seal. None of those came back in the results, although, one of the sea lion pictures came back for “dolphin,” a search that did not return any of the several dolphin and beluga whale photos. (If you want more of this, you might like this older post.)

After I had showered off the chlorine, I turned on some Futurama reruns to nap to and got to the episode Crimes of the Hot, and found inspiration for a gif to include. I made a mental note and tried to resume my nap, but then the ice cream truck drove down the street and I thought, “[Exclamation of disbelief]! It’s December! It shouldn’t be warm enough for the ice cream truck in December!” and then Futurama said, “Global Warming! or, None like it hot!” and I started to question the nature of reality, and the best conclusion I could find was that I should probably sit down and write something even if I wasn’t sure how it all fit together, because it might be a coincidence or it might be something bigger than I understand, but I never will understand it if I don’t try and fail a few times first.

Right? Right.

6 thoughts on “Swimming Surprises

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  1. Loved this one especially! Especially the photo of the “sea lion,” and the fact that you have been granted by the genie the ability to do a sea lion impression at the pool! And the last paragraph is a classic! Thanks. Keep writing.

    Oh, and because of you and Kalen, we had to go to the cookie store today too!

  2. I’m glad you wrote this! Keep writing and keep swimming, but avoid that drowning thing at all costs, please!

    1. Thanks! And don’t worry, most of the lap lane is shallow enough I can just stand up if I’m in trouble. And, barring that, you know I float like a champ!

  3. Sometimes we try and flail… also sea lions can have moments like you did so maybe you are closer to being them than you thought 🦭🦁

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