It’s strangely comforting when life seems to find a theme. Late Summer 2013′s theme has become “Swimming, and the life lessons it teaches.” I’ve already blogged about this one (see my post titled “10 Reasons why Women Should Wear Speedos“) recently, but this theme just keeps on giving.
Last Friday, for some reason, I decided it was time to swim for distance. What this means in my world is that instead of doing various “patterns” (8 laps, alternating short strokes with long, or power strokes with leisurely strokes), I would just try to swim as many laps as I could. For those who are persnickety about such things, my “lap” is about 1/2 the length you might see on the Olympic broadcasts.
So as I set out to swim as many laps as I could in approximately 45 minutes (all I had left of the lap time at the pool), I couldn’t help but think about Mr. Switzer.
Mr. Switzer was my swim teacher in my youth. He was, and still is, a legend in the Lakes Region of NH. He was even profiled on NPR.
Mr. Switzer was scary. He was tall and stern, had a gravely gruff voice; he rarely smiled (though in retrospect I think he did more than I noticed at the time) and he didn’t put up with any bullsh!# from anyone. His pool was outside, and wasn’t heated, which isn’t a big deal unless you’re in, say, Northern New England where it didn’t really become “hot” until July/August. Cold rain? Unless there was lightening, if you had a lesson, you swam. Blue lips, chattering teeth: it didn’t matter…you swam. Screaming kids wailing for their moms? There were holes drilled in the fence that surrounded the pool; if a kid was screaming, Mr. Switzer would tell the parent to leave the poolside and watch through a hole. For the record, this usually worked; the kid would stop screaming once he/she couldn’t sense the parental agony that was nearby.
Mr. Switzer had a pathway for kids to learn to swim, and if you graduated, it meant that you’d swum a mile, or 88 lengths of his pool. After I did my mile, I decided to do it again the next week, because, well, I just loved the feeling.
Once I graduated, I was invited to be an assistant instructor, which even in my early teens I could recognize as an honor. I was an overweight kid, incredibly self-conscious, and I couldn’t imagine why someone would want to be with Jodi-in-a-bathing-suit, on purpose, but Mr. Switzer did, and for one awesome summer, I was his assistant. I was basically a wrangler, helping him corral the littlest of his students, and I loved it. I showed them how to move their arms and “kick-kick-kick” and at the end of every lesson, I would climb out of the pool and stand behind the kiddos as they jumped into Mr. Switzer’s waiting arms. If they didn’t want to jump, I would edge up behind them, pry their arms from my legs, slip my fingers under their armpits and gently toss them. I’m sure the parents thought I was cruel, but they couldn’t see what I could; that Mr. Switzer would pluck the kids out of the air before they hit the water, hold them tight as they went under and came up sputtering, and crack a small smile as he sent them paddling to the ladder.
So on Friday, I decided to try for a mile in my 45 minutes, and I thought of Mr. Switzer. I didn’t get to 88; I ran out of time at about 70, which tells me that I need to pick up my pace.
And then, yesterday, while tooling about on twitter, I noticed that Diana Nyad was trending.
If you don’t know, Diana Nyad is a distance swimmer. She’s 64 years old. Before yesterday, she’d tried 4 times to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage; each time, she’d been unable to finish because, well, if we’re honest, humans aren’t supposed to do such crazy things. Jellyfish, storms, sharks (SHARKS!) stood in her way.
But yesterday, she did it. She frickin’ did it. She was in the water for just over 52 hours. She’s 64-years old, people.
I found myself getting pretty pissed at the news media; they barely covered the event as it happened, though once it had happened, it was everywhere. I’m not sure why they weren’t there as it was happening…maybe because she’s a woman, and 64, and not firm and cute of body? I suspect it might be because she’d “failed” (I dispute that word – I’d like to see any of us even attempt such a feat) 4 times before. But regardless, there were thousands of people who watched and followed her progress and took huge inspiration from her journey.
After she was done, and standing in dazed exhaustion on the shore, she took the time to speak to the crowd through puffy lips (the result of a jellyfish-repellent mask she’d worn) and the only time she said “I” was at the very beginning of her speech:
“I have three messages: One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you are never too old to chase your dream. And three is, it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team.”
Selfless. Classy. Inspiring. Athletes everywhere should have been watching: THAT is how you do a post-game interview. Where are my tissues?
Today, I did an hour in the pool. I didn’t count my laps. I just swam, and thought about Mr. Switzer and Diana, and felt very, very lucky.