The smell of chlorine permeates the entire floor of the building, and I’m nostalgic before I even reach the pool. When I jump in, I find I’ve forgotten that familiar swish of water against my ears, the rhythmic beating of my limbs on the surface muffled by the water enveloping me. It’s a comforting white noise that lets the world disappear, and I’ve missed it.
Up. It taps into a special part of my muscle memory, but I’m always astounded at how quickly my body slips back into its old pattern. My muscles know what to do; I trust them. My brain retreats into itself and takes a deep breath. And it considers…
Competition ruined this for me (as it ruins so many things in life). I used to berate myself for never being fast enough, for not keeping up with the others, never winning. It made the sport more frustrating than fun. Of course, it’s no wonder I was never Olympics-bound, I realize now. My adult body stands at a petite 5’2″ — closer to a gymnast’s ideal frame than a swimmer’s. I raced girls who towered over me on dry land, muscular 6-foot women-to-be with feet and hands easily twice the size of mine… and they still had growing to do! Really, someone should have taken one look at my parents (both small-framed, barely up to the shoulders of their own peers) and directed us toward a different sport right from the get-go.
But they didn’t. And here I am, years later, seeking out a swimming pool on a balmy September morning and pondering why I abandoned the water.
As a child, I was jealous of the bigger girls. They naturally took to every stroke, propelling themselves across the pool astronomically more quickly than I ever would. I was always a shrimp, the shortest and smallest person in any group. I spent my childhood sports career squatting awkwardly in the front row for every team photo, forever envious of the tall girls who could stand regally at the back. After puberty, I became thankful that my body was naturally thin and slight, of course, as “big” became the worst thing a woman could be. As an adult, I’ve learned these variations in our body types hardly matter — no matter what you look like, society will find fault with your appearance. It’s all gravy, in the end.
Pulling my head from the water, I take a breath. It’s this slow, methodical back-and-forth, the rhythm of motion, that has taught me to breathe in all aspects of my life. Underwater, outside voices disappear, and nothing matters except your body, which, in that moment, is perfect. Weightless. Lithe. Mobile. The water is a fantastic equalizer in that way.
“It’s a sport you can do for the rest of your life,” they told me. At 10, when I joined my first swim team, I was hardly concerned about the rest of my life. At 25, I know what they meant. Nothing compares.