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IMG_1082A smile spread across my face.  With my razor-sharp pocket knife I sliced open the package that greeted us at our door after a long day’s work.  Weariness disappeared with the awaiting gift in a brown cardboard box.

One of the ways that I keep my blood flowing during the week is stopping by our athletic club and jumping into the pool.  The pool is 25 yards long.  For me to swim one half of a mile I need to swim 36 lengths of the pool.

For anyone who does or has done it, that is a lot of swimming and it is also incredibly boring.  It is not possible to concentrate on technique, lap counting, stroke style or any other related mental feature of swimming.  Some mindless lap counting habit needs to be incorporated so that you don’t think about doing it.

Then, any variety during the laps is a huge help.  I mean ANY variation is a plus.  Some listen to waterproof MP3 players.  Others, sing to themselves, compose while stroking or just tough it out through the tedious task of lap after lap.

I like to throw in some wind sprints.  Take the word “like” very lightly.  Just to break up the monotony, I put on speed fins for about a dozen of the laps that I elect to swim.

Speed fins are shorter than the typical snorkeling or scuba fins.  To get the best benefit out of them you kick more repetitions than the ease based snorkeling fins.  But, they make a huge difference in my speed.

Besides increased speed, the energy expended is enormous.  It is like to doing wind-sprints.  My lungs are heaving and screaming for oxygen.

I can see the tiles racing by on the bottom of our club pool.  The wake off of my head feels like a wall of water resisting my progress.  Deep breathes are not enough to satisfying my craving for oxygen.

Now, my package is opened.  New speed fins emerge.  I had to try them on and model them for the next visit to the Club.

Today I have retired my old speed fins for these faster and lighter style.  They even fit more comfortably.  They will help me keep the monotony at bay with each workout visit to the club.  Want to give them a try?

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_2047It has been months since I was able to move into the swimming pool without discomfort.  Getting old is no fun.  Doing it gracefully is a daily challenge.

Gingerly I held on to the hand rail and descended into the warm waters of our club lap pool.  Of course in my mind I was bound and determined to look “cool” while doing it.  I stubbornly refused to surrender to any image of “old man coming in!”

Yet, I could only cover so much.  Turning my head too much wrenched my back.  Twisting my hips too much nearly paralyzed me with pain.

OK, I’ll admit it!  I am turning into an OLDer man.  It is worth fighting to remain young in mind and give the appearance of youthful-like mobility and foster the illusion as long as possible.  Age is mostly a mental state, right?  I do not think that last composition of words came out right.

Water buoyancy is a friend to our aching bodies.  God gave us water to show us how gravity can be modulated for a brief moment.  Lifting the weight momentarily relieves the pain.

Deftly I set myself for my first voyage since the diagnosis of four herniated disks.  “Slowly” was my operative term.  Pushing off the wall gently, my gliding moves propelled me through the water.

Just like riding a bike, you never forget how to swim.  The strokes were pain free.  While it was tempting to push my rhythm, experience and terror kept the cadence deliberate and intentionally relaxed.

Lap after lap my mind was beginning to sense progress.  Treatment for my pain-riddled body had brought me back to functionality.  Now, I could fill my lungs with air, grow back some stamina and feel invigorated again.

Still I would go easy.  After several more trips to the pool I would still move deliberately and slowly.  Each time I added more laps.  Finally, I upped my time in the waters of recuperation and knocked off 48 laps.

I did that much just because getting out of the pool is so hard.  After a good swim I use the hand rail to pull me out of the waters and feel the stinging reminder of a back that can no longer to do spinning Karate kicks or double front Kung Fu snap kicks or oblique wrestling leg sweeps.

In my early youthful days I promised myself that I would not whine about aches and pains when I inevitably grew older.  So, the sounds of shrieking that you might be hearing are simply the exhaling of breath practicing a newly discovered soprano vocal range.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_2047The weather in Texas has now passed the winter season.  The low temperatures no longer visit the 30’s.  Instead, they hover in the 70’s for a low.  It is a sign that swimming in the neighborhood outdoor pool is a welcomed activity.

When I drove into the parking lot, all was quiet.  No one else was swimming.  That has been the pattern during my visits last year.

That beats the washing machine pool environment at the YMCA in Michigan that I so often laughed about in the past.  There were regularly shared lanes with other aqua lovers.  Collisions were common.

Here the only sounds are the birds starting their morning flight.  Occasionally, I hear a vehicle drive by the activity center.  It was time to slip into the water for my season’s first swim.

Like all swimmers, I dipped my foot in to test the temperatures.  It was surprisingly pleasant.  Nothing like cold waters to wake you up in the morning.

The outdoor shower was a different story.  Rules dictate that all swimmers must shower before entering the water.  I am a respecter of rules.

No one will ever convince me that the hot water indicator on the shower faucet is actually connected to any hot water source.  It is cold!  I jump in, holler, shiver and shake.  Once I am layered I jump out and chatter my teeth.

Climbing down the steps into the pool is a welcome warm-up exercise.  Then, I fall in just to take the immersion all at once.  My goggles fit into place and the world becomes clear again.  Prescription lenses make swimming much more enjoyable.

I push-off the wall.  My aging body loves the sensation of floating without the pain aggravated by gravity.  It has been months since I have swum.  Now, like riding a bike, the motions of each stroke come alive as if they had never been dormant for a long winter.

Oddly, I feel strong.  The water is parting easily in front of me.  Each stroke comes with neither pain nor fatigue.  I am liking this sensation.

Slowly, my heart rate is increasing.  It will be sustained shortly.  My breathing is timed with each of my strokes.  The coordination between kicking and stroking does not need any concentration.  It is a habit from years of being a water dog.

The laps peel away as the sun rises in the East.  Warm rays fill the pool and the temperatures rise noticeably.  Finally, it is time to hit the shower.  It is a very good beginning to another season in the pool of Cinco Ranch.

It is only October but the neighborhood pools are shutting down.  Our development has a number of water parks but only one remains open during this month of the Fall.  I have been told that it is too cold.

They may have a point.  I walked into our local pool and jumped into the chilly waters to confirm that rumor.  Before my teeth could start chattering, I started into my laps.

A quarter of a mile would do it for today.  Once I finished I would have just enough time to hit the showers, dress and be off to work.  Keeping my mind on my busy schedule would help me ward off any awareness of how coolish the water was.

The pool maintenance man was incredulous.  He  stopped his work and watched me enter the waters.  “It’s gotta be cold this time of year.”

There was a moment when I wanted to say something really clever and humorous in a complicated sort of way.  However, when I blurted out “Brrrr!” he just laughed and my moment for a comedic declaration was lost.  Now, all I could do was let him chuckle as he went about  his work.

At least I gave another human being a moment of levity in his day.  That’s worth it, right?  My sacrifice and loss for another’s benefit; isn’t that almost noble?

Around my last lap I had thoughts of digging out a wet suit.  That would surely keep me more comfortable while cruising up and down the lanes of this pool.  If anyone then asked if I was cold, I could bravely say “No” without shivering uncontrollably.

Soon November will be here.  That’s when this final swimming pool will be closed until next Spring.  What’s a swimmer to do? 

Cross training is fun.  I like to swim.  My mind reviews lists and projects and people. 

It’s a good time to pray for those that come to mind.  Of course my wife and kids are all prayed up.  So are special friends, colleagues and people who God brings to my attention for one reason or another. 

My body is tired, I exit the pool and all my prayers for the day are done.  I pause and laugh.  During my active exercise of mind and spirit I forgot that it was cold. 

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography