Saturday, August 13, 2016

On swimming

Like most children in the small town where I grew up, I took swimming lessons at Tapiola pool every summer. The pool was outdoors, in the northernmost tip of Oregon, in the continental United States' coldest, wettest region. An outdoor pool was a silly idea except for those two or three days in July and August when the temperature finally got above seventy-five degrees.  I learned backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle; I worked up the courage to jump off the diving board at the very end of the summer I was eight, and that's about it. I do not know how to dive, I never learned a flip-turn, and I can't do a dolphin kick. 

And then they shut Tapiola and built the new indoor aquatic center with a twenty-five meter lap pool, a lazy river, a water park, a hot tub, a weight room, conference centers, and more. The aquatic center opened the summer I was twelve and was done with my sporting years.  I spent some time there, sure, but not much. Swimming faded from my life in favor of theatre, friends, boys, and driving.

And suddenly, I was twenty, and swimming was back in my life in a major way. I met my husband, a swim coach, fell in love, got married, and spent lots of my time in and around pools. I relearned the vocabulary of the sport; I learned the major players both in and out of the water. I remember names now that most others don't, like Gary Hall, Jr., and Cullen Jones. I know the big names from other countries, I know times, I know stats, I could (poorly) write a workout if I needed to. 

My marriage is over now, and has been for more than a year. But like the 1500, or Michael Phelps's career, it still keeps going. So while Tim and I are separated, and the divorce is impending but not imminent, the Olympics are on, and I am alone in my new apartment, in my new city, shouting at the TV while Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel and Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin kick ass and take names. Tim is home in Oregon this week, which means he's two hours behind me and I have to wait until the next day to talk over the races with him. That's a drag, but I'm thankful that until I find someone else who cares and knows about swimming, I can still text him excitedly about that 100 FLY and that 200 BK and that 800 FR.

This Olympics has been emotional for me. It's the last time (probably) we'll see the great Micahel Phelps, the dopey Ryan Lochte, the adorable Missy Franklin, the precious Nathan Adrian. There will be no further tense rivalry with Laszlo Cseh and Chad Le Clos. These names, which have marked much of the last twelve or sixteen years of swimming, have also marked the span of my courtship and marriage. And now, like my marriage, it's over.

If I've heard Tim say it once, I've heard him say it a thousand times—swimming is a lifetime sport. That's why Michael Phelps is so great, and why Anthony Ervin is such a beast. That's why swimming has been around for so much of my life, and that's why I've taken it with me from one part of my life to the next.

I start PhD coursework on Wednesday this week. I worked every damn day this summer, and I could do with a bit of a break, but I'm ready to get to work. I'm ready to crush the coursework, to learn as much as I can, and to get down to business on my dissertation. I'm ready to move forward with my life and my career. I'm ready to learn again, I'm ready to love again, I'm ready to live again. I'm ready to dive in and swim on. #justkeepswimming