by Christopher Cudworth
The alarm rings at 4:30. It doesn’t care how you feel. How you slept. Who you slept with. Or how many days this week you rose at 4:30. It’s 4:30. Get up.
The windshield wiper does not seem to want to do its job. Perhaps it’s too early. Too dewy. The wipers swing back and forth to remind you: in 10 minutes you’ll be swimming.
People in swimsuits sit at pool’s edge staring at calm water. There are good swimmers here. Women and men. They know what they’d be doing in the pool.
I do not yet know my capacity. It is just past 5:30 a.m. on the first day of August and the rest of eternity.
Will I get better at this? How many days a week will it take? Can I kick with any force rather than creating surface waves?
Things are improving. My stroke starts to come back. Then the swim coach wanders to my end of the pool. He stands looking at the nine swimmers in their various lanes. But his eyes see me. Instinctively a coach can read what you’re doing in the water. Are the arms flailing or pulling. Do your feet cross when you kick?
Because, you see, your feet are like a propeller. That’s what he explains when I ask him what I can do to improve my kick. He demonstrates by sitting on the aluminum bench by the pool to show me how your feet should actually rotate back and forth when you kick.
Then he has me put a hand on a triangular float and swim sideways with my head tucked back in the water and it is really hard to to. I swim in a C shape at first. Weak back muscles, he tells me. All runners seem to do that.
I look over at the lanes where good swimmers are hard at work. Their shoulders glisten as they pile through the water. Here am I, kicking for all I’m worth. Going nowhere. Or so it seems.
I can only imagine how it must feel for someone just starting out as a runner. That first few steps. The first mile. Then two. Then three.
Or cycling on a road bike the first time. I recall tipping over with my feet clipped in. “Now you’re a real cyclist,” my buddy warned me.
It’s been 10 years or more since I tipped over like that. Yes I’ve crashed, but that was from going too fast, not too slow. Part of the sport.
Swimmers know the road ahead is full of ripples of awareness and small breakthroughs. You can only improve to the degree that you’ll keep at it. Conditioning. Practice. Commitment.
“So are we going to see you more often?” my girlfriend’s swim friend asks.
“Uh, yeah, I think so,” I tell her.
“Because if we don’t see you, we’ll miss you. Then I’ll have to ask Sue, “Where’s Chris?” every time you don’t come.”
Way to guilt me there, sister.
But guilt is only one of the many motivations one can find to swim.
There’s that feeling that your chest and shoulder muscles are full of blood. That’s cool.
There’s that zen motion of moving through the water when even the bubbles seem to fall silent because your brain refuses to hear much of anything.
And there’s the incredible notion that one day you could actually be good at this. Because I’m not hopeless. I swam as a kid and am re-learning the skills buried deep in the muscle fibers and recesses of my brain.
We’re home before 6:45 a.m. She makes a breakfast of eggs and English muffin. We sit in the sun outside on a summer morning and you realize, “I just got done swimming.”
It’s a cool feeling. One that could carry through the winter months and cold mornings and driving through snow to go swimming when the water is as blue as the cold sky outside.
But for now, it feels good to sit with light clothes on in the morning sun after a swim. To feel her skin rich with baby oil on a summer morning as we hold hands.
There is nothing wrong with this swimming thing. Nothing at all.