A happy gym rat

We were neck-and-neck, our noses just above the water for maximum chlorine inhalation. I tried not to look over at the next lane where she was swimming without really rippling the water, because it was a little humiliating that we were doing the same “old lady” stroke. I rationalized that I was on a resting lap while she’d been in the pool half an hour and not gotten her hair wet, making her the stereotypical old lady swimmer. When I couldn’t take it any more, I rolled on my side and started my freestyle stroke again. Forget the rest lap, push on.

I haven’t been a pool snob for long, but I am enjoying the hell out of it. In fact, I will admit here and now that I couldn’t do the freestyle stroke with breathing until about, oh, last month. Prior to that, I’d been a get-there-by-any-means sort of swimmer. For years I’ve done sprint triathlons, making the best of the bike and run after getting out of the water dead last. I’ll swim anywhere anytime, but never conquered this basic technique.

I blame it on being 6th out of 7 siblings and able to fake it enough at Sandy Beach swimming lessons way back when. Or being a little freaked out by some close calls during cannonball parties at the neighbor’s pool (thanks again, Jeff, for hauling me out more than once). I prefer to breathe oxygen, not water. Finally, at my advanced age, I have the time and the right facility to overcome my lack of ability in the water. It’s amazing.

At the same time, I thank my kids for making this breakthrough possible. It’s just about the 17th anniversary of my life as a gym rat. My current “gym” is the closest thing to a country club that I will ever belong to (yes, not one but two amazing indoor/outdoor pools), having spent time in everything from squat cinderblock buildings filled with Universals and guys with no necks to converted warehouse-style “clubs.”

My first gym was a converted mill on the Sheepscot River in Brunswick, Maine in 1995 when I had to bundle everyone up for the sub-zero dash from the parking lot to the babysitting room. The twins were a year old, it had been a brutal winter with 4 kids ages 4-and-under, inside most of the time, and if I hadn’t joined the gym I might have lost my mind. And, oh yeah, that was the year we moved 4 times to 3 different states. So, let’s correct that: I was closer to going postal than to just losing my mind.

Having a gym gives me something to look forward to at the end of the day — or the middle, or the start. When I’m going cross-eyed from working on the computer or the sun is shining or it’s raining or I need any sort of an excuse to get away for a couple of hours, I go. It’s a respite, giving me time to think and work out. It’s a daily ritual and a source of great satisfaction when I mark my workout (gym or otherwise) on the calendar alongside my work hours.

the daily balance sheet

Even though this winter was so mild as to be inconsequential (unless you’re paying to heat my house, ouch!), it still got dark at 4:30 for a couple months. And given my advancing age, the knees and feet needed a break once in a while. It was wonderful to slip away to the gym for a swim or just weightlifting when it was chilly or dark or I was sore from outdoor overload. And let’s not underestimate the importance of the strength and cross-training that (most of us believe) reduces the possibility of injury and improves performance.

And then there’s my boxing class. Quite the opposite of my tranquil dips in the pool, I have a tiny muscle bound trainer pushing me to hit the heavy bag and do more pushups than I ever imagined I’d be capable of. Then running the stairs. Then doing deadlift squats until the perspiration pours off me. Then more pushups.

Couldn’t love it more. It’s going to take more than age to make me do the old lady stroke.

ski gloves, bike gloves ... now boxing gloves


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