This past weekend was the first in New York’s outdoor pool season, and, although now gainfully employed and so only able to swim on weekends, it is still a pleasure both to swim and to be re-united with the other “regulars” at the neighborhood pool. One of them reminded me that, in a blog post two years ago, I had christened us “The Ladies Who Lap,” so, in her (or maybe our) honor, I am re-posting it:
Swimming is something I’ve done since childhood, when my dad taught me how to swim and my mom taught me how to body-surf. Wide World of Sports and Olympic coverage gave me endless tutorials on technique. All I needed was a place to swim.
In recent years, that place has been, at least in summer, Lyons Pool, a WPA project that used federal money to take the “lemons” of Depression (the previous one, I mean) unemployment to make the “lemonade” of paid work that is still paying dividends to grand-children – and probably great-grandchildren – of the men who built it (are you listening, Washington?).
Being unemployed myself, these days, I decided to make my own version of “lemonade” and swim every day, rather than just on weekends. The pool opens at 11:00, and most days I’ve hit the water shortly thereafter. On days when a camp is there, about half the pool is reserved for them, and those of us who want to swim laps practice our individual versions of steeplechase or obstacle course swimming. But most days, a small portion at one end is roped off just for those who lap swim.
The area allowed is not large, and in late afternoon it can resemble the Long Island Expressway at rush hour, but earlier there is usually just a small number, and there’s a camaraderie that develops over time. There are a few men, but most of us “lappers” are women: The young woman who works nights and comes to swim beforehand. The recently retired teacher, who’s been swimming here summers for a quarter century. A German friend who is here for her annual month-long visit to her daughter, also a friend, who swims with us on weekends. The very heavy blond, valiant in her bathing suit, accessorized between lockers and water by a flowing chiffon wrap from waist to ankles so even on land she seems to float – if Rubens painted a Valkyrie, she would have looked like this – and she swims, ever so slowly, but with an endurance that puts me to shame. The somewhat less heavy (and less bold) woman who wears a swim dress with a hem past her knees and swims almost tirelessly but who drives everyone else crazy by talking incessantly – one is almost afraid to come up for breath for fear of finding oneself in the midst of a conversation one didn’t know one was having.
And yet we all talk, in between laps. We are mostly middle age and older and continuous laps are more than most of us can manage. But we are regulars, and the lifeguards are tolerant, so long as we catch both our breath and the latest news while at either end and not blocking the lanes. The lanes are not marked, but there are few collisions, as we are usually careful not to run into each other, and time our starts in accordance with room available and our knowledge of each other’s speeds.
Most of us swim slowly, and we all have our preferred strokes, with breast stroke being the overwhelming favorite, although the talker favors Australian crawl and all but one or two of us switch, at least sometimes – me most of all: My routine is to start with breast stroke, then move on, in turn, to Australian crawl, back stroke, and side stroke, although I cannot hold a straight line on back stroke so usually duck under the ropes and take my chances in the open area of the pool for that particular lap, not wanting to interfere with the others.
This year, to my delight, I have added the butterfly to my repertoire . As a child I was fascinated by the butterfly stroke, which seemed somehow glamorous and special, but try as I might, carefully watching medal winners on tv in slow motion and trying to model my stroke after theirs, I could never do it for more than a few strokes – and that only in deep water. Breathing while butterflying was impossible. Yet I loved the feel a dolphin kick, and never stopped trying to put the pieces together (without drowning). This year, magically, somehow everything fell into place, and the feeling of rippling through the water is wonderful and triumphant. But then again, aren’t we all meant to be born again through water and the Spirit?