Swimming is stupid
My back hurts. I know, I know, so does yours. Everyone’s back hurts. We’re a ridiculous, poorly evolved species. Our backs were never meant to sit too long, or stand too long, or carry backpacks overstuffed with clothes and notebooks and water bottles and dirty sneakers, or jog in place on a motorized rubber belt for 37 minutes, or lift a dozen neatly stacked iron plates 10 times in a row to stimulate our testosterone-infused man tits. Even so, my back really hurts. More than normal. No matter what I do.
My doctor told me to try swimming.
Well that’s not exactly true. During a recent co-paid visit, I said, What about swimming? And she said, Sure, give it a try, if it hurts, stop. Which is pretty much good advice for anything: Give it a try, if it hurts, stop. Jogging? Hurt, stopped, check. Weight lifting? Hurt, stopped, check. Dating? Hurt, stopped, check. Drinking? Hurt… well, let’s not get crazy now. Anyway, in my haste to reverse my recently acquired middle-aged man body, I decided to start swimming. For exercise.
Did I mention swimming is stupid?
I joined the fancy gym with a pool across the street from my work; slipped on a pair of gym shorts, the kind with one of those sack-hammock-liners (that’ll work as a bathing suit, right?); and proclaimed to no one in particular: I will swim. Every day. And all will be good again. I will return my broken body to the water, the place where the shitty evolution process that led to my bad back began. Problem solved. My girlfriend was already excited for my soon-to-be transition from aforementioned middle-aged man body to swimmer’s body. I felt 39 again, and I hadn’t even left the locker room.
Then I remembered: Do I even know how to swim?
Last time I swam a lap of any sort was probably 35 years ago during the swim test at Mirror Lake Beach Club. Three laps between the two floating rafts in the deep end, first and last lap free style, the middle lap whatever you wanted (that meant on your back). I took that test three times before passing, proudly, at age 11, almost forgetting (until now) the two times when I failed—one time giving up in exhaustion after Lap No. 2, the other being “saved” or fished out during Lap No. 3. But by age 11—or was it 12? I dunno, it’s my story, I’m going with 11—I was finally strong enough to complete all three laps. I don’t recall ever swimming a lap, or even a straight line, again on purpose. Until now.
I approached the empty pool with absolutely no plan. (If swimming is so great, by the way, why was the pool empty? It’s because everyone else knows what I know now: Swimming is stupid.) First of all, I was still wearing my sneakers and tank top. I didn’t want to be that guy leaving the locker room barefoot and shirtless, my soft and hairy (pre-swimmer’s body!) man-boobs for all to see. Instead, I set up shop at the pool’s edge, where I de-shirted and de-shoed (my article, my words), then made up a few pre-swim arms-in-air stretches in case anyone was watching, so it was clear this guy knows what he’s doing. After about 18 seconds of stretching, I jumped in.
Okay, I didn’t exactly jump. That water might be cold. I turned my back to the pool and slowly climbed down the ladder. The floating thermometer said 84 degrees, so how come it felt so icy? Within no time (four, maybe five minutes), I was standing in the 4.5-foot “deep” end, the water barely reaching my armpits, I took a deep breath, and in one not-so-swift motion submerged my still-raised arms and shoulders. Brrrr. I was in. Now what? I looked across the pool at the clock and noticed it was 5:45 p.m. Which was weird. Not because of the time, but because I could see the clock clearly. That could mean only one thing: My glasses were still on. Whoops. I pulled myself out of the pool, put my glasses in a sneaker (My girlfriend thinks that’s gross. Why?) and jumped back in, for real this time, like nothing ever happened. Now, goggles. Where are my goggles? I could’ve sworn I put them in my shorts pocket … Yep, still there. On a side note, the gym forgot to charge me the eight bucks for those. So no matter what happens in the pool, I’m coming out ahead.
Now I was ready to swim. Ready, set … swim.
First stroke, turn head to the left, deep breath in, reach, second stroke, head in the water, breathe out … Four seconds in and my form was fantastic, I’m swimming, I’m swimming. This was going to be easy. It was that third stroke when reality kicked in. I had no idea my heart could go from zero to Red Bull in such a short time, each new breath my mouth as wide open as a bachelor party blow-up doll. I finished one lap, and it’s a short pool, too. But I didn’t stop there. I kept going, did three in a row. And then I stopped, stood, and gasped for air like I’ve never gasped for air before. Oh my god (always spell out OMG when you truly mean it). This must be what an asthma attack feels like. My chest was pounding, I was dizzy, I had an instant headache. I think snot was running down my face. I can’t be sure. I hope that was water and not blood dripping from my ears. Holy crap. I leaned over the edge of the pool, hoping no one was watching. No, wait, I hope someone was watching. Who’s gonna call the ambulance?
I used to run six miles a day, five days a week. I also used to drink nearly that many beers a day, five days a week. That’s not a joke. Well, it’s kind of a joke, in that I used to tell one about running a mile for every beer I drank (“running from my own intervention,” is how it went, usually to a silent audience). I don’t drink like that anymore. So the swimming part—or, rather, the breathing part—should be easy, right? Then how come it was so hard?
Six minutes later, my breathing and heart rate were back to normal exhaustion levels, and I somehow managed to do almost nine more laps over the next 18 minutes, stopping to rest way longer than I should have between each. I say “almost nine” because three-quarters of the way through Lap No. 9, which I did on my back, I was completely spent and started to sink, taking in a mouthful of pool water (which tasted like tears at this point). Game over. I stopped, stood and, hunched over, coughed for a minute straight (which is a lot longer than you think). A glass partition separates the pool area from the rest of the gym, and a couple of people had now taken notice of the possible drowning victim, ruining their tranquil workouts.
Is that guy coughing or crying? If they looked closer they’d have realized it was both.
I was drained. I dragged myself from my chlorinated hell, using the steps at the far end of the pool instead of the ladder, which would have required much more energy than I had to give. With a towel draped over my shoulders, as if I was a marathon runner huddling under a Mylar sheath, I sat on the bench next to the pool in silence, trying to hide my still-heavy breathing in case anyone was still watching. I’m not even sure how I got home that night.
When do I get my swimmer’s body?
# # #
About Mike Pincus: A New MAM
At 46 years old, it’s official: I am a middle-aged man. I’m not sure how or when it happened; only that it came on suddenly. One day I’m out drinking till 4 a.m. with 20-somethings, then boom, next day four beers give me a hangover and diarrhea. Like a newborn baby whose every experience is met with wide eyes and excitement, I’m new to all of this. So join me as I share my exciting and (mostly) exhausting experiences as a new middle-aged man (or, New MAM).