I wrote a piece on a different blog this week titled Thus Spoke Vagina. It addresses the many ways women in this world must deal with both the control and ignorance men try to place on them.
I’ve written also about the focus on women’s breasts on this blog, and how athleticism and healthy body image is a positive trend for women who run, ride and swim.
Tests of my own objectivity and respect are not difficult to find. Yesterday in the pool I popped up from an interval to find a woman perched on the pool edge working up the will to get into the water. I said hello, and offered a bit of commiseration. “For me, the worst part is getting into the water,” I laughed.
She laughed as well. We talked briefly and I learned that she’d taken up swimming a year ago following a serious injury to her spine. “I broke my back sledding,” she informed me.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” I responded.
Her face grew serious and she looked up the lane of the pool. “Yes, swimming has been wonderful. I used to be a runner, but I can’t do that anymore.”
I shared the fact that I was grateful to have avoided spinal injury during my bike crash a few years back. “I was grateful to only break my collar bone,” I told her.
She was sitting on the side of the pool with her swim cap on, wearing a teal swimsuit, and she wrapped her arms across her chest at that point. I sensed a bit of self-consciousness, and took pains keep my gaze on her face as we talked. It was well past time for the start of my next interval anyway.
I know that women are too accustomed to being ogled, and did not want to be one more guy being perceived as doing that. That’s especially true at the pool, but just as true at the track or on the bike. But I’m human and we athletes do appreciate athletic bodies. It’s part of why we all go out there and try our best to be fit. We want to look good. But there are rules of respect that we all need to maintain.
Sure it was just an encounter at a swimming pool. The world did not change because I took pains to respect her personal space. I genuinely learned something from our conversation, and how much she now loved to swim. My girlfriend Sue loves the water too. And now so do I. Most days. It’s still a difficult process, but it’s improving.
The trick to swimming is learning balance in the water between stroke, kick and body rotation. The trick to life is learning balance too, between interest, appreciation and respect. That’s the triathlon of social interaction, in a nutshell.