Finding my Olympic spirit

8 Aug

Today I decided to channel Rebecca Adlington and drag myself down to the local leisure centre for a proper swimming session. Not the kind of swim I do with my son, which is if I’m honest is more like a warm bath, but a full-on, swim-hat-and-goggles kinda workout.

The Olympic effect must be in full swing because the pool was pretty busy. Half of it was dedicated to general splashing and the other half contained three lanes – slow, medium and fast.

The first thing I noticed was that nobody wanted to get in the fast lane, despite the fact that it was empty.

I say nobody – in this instance it was all women. There were nine of us squashing ourselves into the “medium” lane (the slow lane tends to be a bit of a write-off at the best of times) and not one prepared to venture upwards, even though they would have had it all to themselves.

Swimming and I have a longstanding on/off relationship. Swimming has been very understanding, considering how frequently I sneak off to play the field (I sometimes have dalliances with improvised tennis rallies, usually around the time of Wimbledon). On the whole, despite my various time-outs over the years, inexplicably I’m still pretty good at it (she says modestly).

When I was at school I took part in races and stuff. Then university arrived and I had neither the time nor the money to keep up my swimming prowess, such as it was. The hangovers didn’t help of course.

In my late 20s I got back into my groove and swam four times a week. Until I met the man who became my husband and found that submersing myself in cold water for hours at a time when I could be snuggled up on the sofa watching movies and drinking wine seemed less tempting. This has been well-documented by my waistline.

I grew up around water. I realise this is quite a claim for a land-locked north Londoner. But my dad’s favourite hobby was scuba diving, meaning I spent almost every spare moment on a beach, regardless of the weather, snorkelling, playing in the rockpools and waiting for him to emerge, smelling of the sea, with a collection of  shells, freshly caught fish (even the occasional lobster) and vintage bottles of Lee & Perrins (the seabed of the entire British coast is covered in them, according to my late father. As a result, so is my family home).

So – I’m kind of used to looking (and occasionally smelling) like the proverbial drowned rat. More than that, weirdly, I enjoy it. Perhaps that’s why it bugged me so much that my fellow swimmers today would rather progress rather slowly nose-to-tail up the middle lane rather than brave the faster lane.

I jumped straight in. Then in got swimmer no 2, a man whose shoulders were as broad as I am long and who seemed to think that doing front crawl meant slapping the water so hard with his palms that almost half of it decided to leave immediately. There was no way I was going to let him overtake me, so I pushed myself that bit harder.

Then swimmer no 3 arrived – another man, more of an indie kid than a body builder, but still pretty nippy.

Then we were all completely outshone by the arrival of swimmer no 4 – a lady in her mid 40s, in a pink swim hat, who powered through the water like a jet ski. Water Slapper practically punched her as she glided past him as if he were standing still. He got out after that.

I swam faster and further than I thought possible after a year off and a baby because I was so determined to keep up.

Afterwards it made me think – why are we all so afraid to push ourselves?

My husband laughed long and hard when I said I wasn’t competitive but I still don’t think I am. I am, however, motivated by my surroundings. Right now i’m sitting on the sofa eating ice cream because that’s what we’re all doing. But in that pool, in that lane, I somehow managed to keep up because the pace had been set by everybody else. Is it too intimidating – and if so why?


One Response to “Finding my Olympic spirit”

  1. The Coffee Table Years August 10, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    I love this post, particularly your memories of the sea as a child. I have similar memories, but my parents were hardly adventurous. My dad would only have got near the water if one of us was drowning.
    I used to go swimming at the local pool when I was pregnant. Didn’t go back after the kids. But I always avoided the fast lane. It seemed to be saying to me, ‘Don’t even try out – you will only end up making a fool of yourself.’ And, yes, I was intimidated by faster, stronger swimmers, who would would end up spalshing me with their backwash. I think there is an unspoken law in swimming pools – don’t go to the fast lane unless you can keep up. And, frankly, I just can’t. Defeatist? Maybe. Realist? Definitely.

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