About a year ago, I started experiencing knee pain in Zumba. After a few weeks, the knee tenderness would go away. But then it started happening more frequently. I started yoga around this time, in an effort to find a less weight-bearing form of exercise. But yoga, with its one-leg standing poses, isn’t that easy on the knees.
So I started thinking about incorporating swimming into the mix. Swimming is pretty compelling as a form of exercise, given that you aren’t bearing weight and your sweat washes right off of you. Unfortunately, swimming laps also requires that you wear a racing swimsuit. To be frank, there are a lot of hobbies I’d try if it wasn’t for the clothes. Like ballroom dancing (mid-heel t-straps), or soccer (shin guards), or surfing (wetsuits with mock turtlenecks). But I’m 35. It’s getting real real. Time to put the vanity away and focus on preserving my remaining cartilage.
When I tried to put my vanity away, however, it resisted, mightily. I looked at all the one-piece Speedo and Tyr swimsuits on Zappos and Amazon. In terms of style and sex appeal, the suits ranked one step above the mom suits in the Lands End catalog. Every time I get the Lands End catalog I flip to the swimsuits and force myself to stare at them hard. Then I make a pact with myself that I will give up swimming altogether before I wear a swimsuit with a skirt attached to it.
The subject of one-piece swimsuits is a touchy one in our family, ever since Tom insisted that I wear a one-piece swimsuit to Tate’s baby-and-me swim lesson. I had mentioned to Tom that I hoped other moms would wear two-pieces because that’s all I owned. And that’s when I learned that I had married William Bennett.
“Yoona!! You can’t wear a bikini to Tate’s swim lesson. You just CAN’T. PLEASE. Think of Tate.” Think of Tate?? All I DID was think of Tate. I was getting my hair wet, wasn’t I? I looked at Tom as if seeing him for the first time. I was both offended by the implication that my bikini days were over, and annoyed by my husband’s conventionalism. I was so angry about the whole thing that I considered showing up in a monokini with cutouts and a ruched butt seam in the back. But in the end I just skipped the lesson.
On my laptop, I came back to the ugly racing suits every couple days. For two whole months. Finally I broke down and bought a two-piece Tyr. When I tried my suit on, I was pleasantly surprised. From a distance it looked like I was wearing a black sports bra and black men’s briefs, but that was preferable to the one-piece suits, which appeared to be cut solely to emphasize back fat. The bottoms of my two-piece did not cut into my sides and the top had a sporty appeal, even if it made it apparent that my chest is as flat as a board. For a second, I wondered if I should shove some cutlets into the top. But I shook it off. I was an athlete! (Fake) boobs would just create drag and slow me down. In any event, I had bigger problems to worry about, like my swim cap.
The first time I wrestled my swim cap onto my head, I pulled it right off and fished the packaging out of the garbage can to check the size. Clearly I had inadvertently bought a child’s cap. But no. Adult swim caps only come in one size, and that size is entirely too small for my head. My cap is so tight that when I put it on I swear I can feel my eyes bug out. Generally speaking, the ugliness of my head inside the swim cap was shocking. When I looked in the mirror, I inhaled a sharp breath. The swim cap, with all my hair tucked inside of it, confirmed something I had long suspected. And that is, that if I ever lose my hair, I am totally fucked.
The swimming. Right. The first time I got in the pool, I looked at the geezers in the lanes around me and felt bad that I was about to smoke them. Then I made the mistake of taking a breath every four crawl strokes, right out of the gate. Why would I do that? No idea. I may have thought that’s how everyone did it, since the only time I’ve really seen swimming is during the Olympics. By the end of the first 50 meters I was clutching the side of the pool as if it was a raft in shark-infested waters, and sucking wind so hard that my wheezing was audible over the lapping of the water. The lifeguard sitting in the chair above me alternated between carefully monitoring my situation to determine whether I needed CPR, and looking away, to save me further embarrassment. As I struggled to compose myself, the geezer in the next lane splashed me while doing a flip turn.
Since freestyle was so hard, I tried a few laps of breaststroke, and 100 meters of backstroke. When I went to pull myself out of the pool at the end of my swim, my arms gave out from under me and I was forced to paddle weakly over to the ladder. My lats were on fire, and my shoulders felt like someone had pulled my arms out of their sockets. This wasn’t the kind of soreness that settled in after a few hours. I felt it as I GOT OUT OF THE POOL. I’m no doctor, but I don’t think exercise is supposed to create that kind of immediate physical pain. I’ll have to write Michael Phelps to confirm.
I was so traumatized after my first lap swim that I considered quitting, but I’d invested a lot of time and mental angst in procuring the swimsuit and accessories, and I felt I owed it to myself to give it another go. It took me another week to get back in the pool. This time, I put on my swim cap, avoided all mirrors, and walked straight to the pool.
And once in the water, I started to get it. I was gliding through the water with more ease, and began to zone out to the rhythm of the water sluicing through my fingers. The voice in my brain, which sounds like a neurotic and chatty 7-year old girl, started to quiet. I stopped worrying that I’d eaten a one-pound bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs by myself over three days. I stopped worrying that Finn had recently started laughing like Beavis. I stopped worrying that Tate sang the alphabet song using only the letter K. In fact, I stopped thinking about anything but the satisfying feel of the wall when I touched it at the end of each lap.
It felt sublime. Who knows. Maybe there’s a swimmer in me after all.