I slip into the water and it embraces me like cool satin sheets. We are old friends. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of splashing around in a pool as a very young child.
After a brief warm up I begin my laps. Kick 2, 3, 4; kick 2, 3, 4. I begin churning through the water and start to relax as I slip into a semi trance. All athletes know about this and the runners even have a name for it. It is called a runner’s high. It is being in the zone, a place where the body automatically takes over and the breathing becomes labored but steady while the mind is on auto pilot. My arms begin to stretch and pull in rhythm as my legs continue the cadence of kick 2,3,4; kick 2,3,4.
I change my rhythm and go into the breast stroke—stretch, pull, and glide; stretch, pull, and glide. The black lane marker below me waves, shimmers, and ripples like a giant snake leading the way. I continue my rhythmic movements of stretch, pull, and glide. Suddenly the markers disappear and I am at the end of the lane. I repeat this process over and over until I have completed 25 laps and/or one hour, depending on how I feel that day.
My interests come naturally as my father was a champion swimmer in college. I am so thankful my parents encouraged me to learn to swim. My first official swimming lesson was at Scout camp in a cold water lake with a sandy shore and icky bottom coated with layers of slimy leaves that long ago gave up their hold on the trees above. I call it a lake but it wasn’t much bigger than an overgrown mud puddle. These conditions probably turned off many would-be-swimmers but I loved it. I looked forward to camp each year so I could continue my lessons. I finally completed all the Red Cross courses and even achieved my life guard patch.
Then it was my turn to introduce young campers to the water. By this time I was at a different camp but the conditions weren’t much better and in some ways were even worse. We shared the lake with what seemed like a thousand frogs. Have you ever tried teaching the dog paddle to screaming young girls avoiding jumping frogs? Truth is I wasn’t too crazy about them myself.
There is something spiritual about swimming, whether it is outside or indoors. You become one with nature and the water. The water supports you as you effortlessly float and move about. It cleanses your body and soul and refreshes you spirit. Many people are afraid of the water but if you relax and trust the water you will float. Keep in mind to kick your legs and keep your hands cupped to provide resistance through the water, then relax and remember to breathe—now you are swimming. Swimming is the closest we will ever come to flying.
Swimming is an excellent exercise because it doesn’t wear down the joints and can be done at any age. What other exercise can you do that is a complete workout for the body but does not leave you hot and sweaty?
This may seem like a strange time to write about a summer sport as we are now into the fall season but there are many pools at health clubs and Y’s across the nation. If you aren’t into swimming laps there are also water aerobics and water Pilates classes you can take.
While cleaning out some drawers recently I found an old postcard of the pool we frequented when I was just a tadpole. The pool was Dreamland swimming pool in Kenova, WV. I loved that place and it was the closest thing to heaven I knew. To me, it was even better than an amusement park. At the time it was built in 1925 it was the largest swimming pool east of the Mississippi River. Measuring 125 ft. by 250 ft. it was nearly the size of a football field. Two large circular concrete islands were in the center of the pool to provide a resting place for swimmers and sun worshipers. It gradually slopped from a few inches of water to 9 ft. At the deep end there were two platform diving boards, one 5 meters and the other 10 meters. I still bear the effects of an injury when I dove off the 10 meter board in college trying to show off for my boyfriend who later became my husband. I hit the water wrong and the force of the landing turned my legs backwards bending my back and causing a lifetime of back problems. I did this dive not once but twice. After failing a second time I gave up.
Dreamland pool also had two slides at one end. One was a big slide and one for smaller children. As a young kid I thought it was amazing to be able to fly down a slide and land in the water. Of course, it is nothing compared to today’s water parks, which I also love.
A large three-story pavilion ran along one side of the pool. My mother tells of attending dances there, while she was in college, with big name bands such as Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and Louis Armstrong. I remember the dressing rooms were marked by large blue and white circular towers resembling art deco architecture. I can still remember the smells of chlorine, popcorn and candy. It truly was a magical place.
Most of my best memories are connected to the water so, as I continue swimming my laps, it is like visiting with an old friend.