New Hampshire has a short swimming season. This is the toll we pay up here in the north country. Since I’m not one to pay for a membership at a gym just to swim laps, every year around this time my body gets reacquainted with the aches and pains unique to swimming. Body parts pushing through the friction of water get tested in ways you don’t test them when you’re doing land-based workouts. These are muscles I haven’t used in months and I feel it the next morning. When I do it all over again.
Full body soreness is a signal. This signal is telling me “congratulations, you’ve done some work. Now keep it going.” And so I get back at it. Lap after lap back and forth in the pool, slowly relearning the joy of swimming for fitness. Out of breath at first, until my lungs figure out the pace and I settle into a rhythm.
It’s purely coincidence that the Olympic Swimming Trials are being televised at the same time I’m back in the pool. I’m not at the level that these Olympic athletes are at, swimming to realize their dream or see it dashed by the slimmest of margins. I’m awed by these men and women working for years to a peak of physical excellence, but I don’t jump in the pool and swim laps to be like them. They sacrifice far more in their pursuit than I’m willing to sacrifice (the fact that I’m as old as their parents aside). I’m not that delusional anymore.
We all sacrifice something. I’m not chasing excellence in the pool as I swim alone back and forth like a ping pong ball bouncing off walls. No, I’m not chasing anything at all. Just a return to the joy of swimming for swimming’s sake. No triathlons or swim meets in my future, just more of the same push against the fluid friction of water. The pool mostly, with a few days in salty Buzzards Bay and the dark, silty waters of my favorite New Hampshire pond mixed in before the days grow cold again.
Early morning swims remind us of the shortness of the season. The air is brisk at 6 AM, steam rises off the pool and dewy surfaces as the sun reaches for them. Laps in a pool are like the cycle of the seasons; ’round and ’round we go, back to where we once were only to turn around when we get there. This might seem repetitive and mundane, but if we pay attention we find we’re not the same person on our return. Something in us changes, one lap at a time. One season at a time.