People often ask if I played sports growing up. I guess a lot of people in the fitness industry have a background in competitive athletics. It makes sense. They enjoyed movement in their youth, then found a way to turn the teaching and discussion of movement into a career. I played ice hockey from the ages of 8 to 14. I quit to be more involved with high school theater. However there was a brief period, just before I quit hockey, that I considered transitioning to swimming. I guess I was tired of the water being frozen. So my freshman year of high school, I tried out for the swim team. It was an absolute disaster and I'm here to tell you all about it.
When I started high school my older sister was already a senior. I was in this new uncharted territory but she was a veteran. I looked to her for leadership. She gave me a piece of advice. She told me she had regretted not taking up a sport and said something along the lines of
"Its a great way to make friends and girls will think you're hot".
Making friends and girlfriends were my some of my foremost priorities at the time, so this was a strong sales pitch. She made it sound so easy. Join the swim team, make the friends, get the girls. Bing, Bang, Boom. A silver bullet for all my social woes. So I started thinking "Yea, this swim team sounds like a pretty good deal."
But was I qualified for a spot on the JV swim team at Wakefield High School? Was my body prepared for these rigors? I asked myself those questions back in mid-2003 and gave the following answer, which I found satisfactory at the time.
"Well, I mean... I know HOW to swim...we have a pool in our backyard... I sure do spend a lot of time in that pool during the summers... I've been known to hit a few laps here and there. I think I can do this."
Thinking my leisurely summer pool time was at all preparing me for the swim team was like thinking you're prepared to climb Mount Everest because you own a North Face jacket. My delusions would soon become apparent.
I showed up on the first day of try-outs and felt out of place almost immediately. All these kids trying out seemed like they had been swimming a lot more than me. I wasn't helped by the fact that I looked ridiculous. I didn't own a speedo, like every other guy at the try out was wearing. My parents said they would buy me one after I made the team. So all I had to wear were red floral-print, knee-length swim trunks. Everybody else was sleek and streamlined like snake people. I was swishing around with a parachute of fabric held to my waist by a drawstring. They had giant cargo pockets. My outfit was practically designed to create the most drag possible. My only saving grace was my lack of body hair at the time. I didn't feel embarrassed but looking back on it now I'm positive some of these other kids were embarrassed FOR me.
We moved to the pool's edge and I remember the coach, who I would later have as an English teacher, told us to do a certain stroke at a certain pace. She shouted some numbers I didn't understand. Nobody else seemed puzzled. She pointed to this big clock on the wall that was some sort of stopwatch or swimming metronome and said
"If you don't know how to use one of these, I suggest you figure it out real quick!"
I guess I wasn't real quick enough because before I had time to stare at this contraption and make sense of it's workings it was already my turn to get in the pool and swim along with everybody else. The first lap was alright. After three, things were starting to burn and I felt my pace slow. By the 6th lap I knew I wasn't going to make the team. By the 8th one I didn't even want to. This was all happening inside my head before the warm-up was complete. I don't know if you're aware but, when you're swimming, you can't breathe most of the time. There are very brief and specific windows for breathing to occur. That turned out to be something I couldn't really tolerate for more than 5 minutes. Continuous swimming does not have my endorsement as an activity for people. Are we sure the human body is meant for this? It just feels like maybe we're forcing it a little. I have a hard time accepting sports that animals can beat us at. Our best human swimmers have nothing on the most average dolphin. What's our endgame here?
The tryout lasted 2 days and I attended both. That's right. I went back for more. I put back on the same shorts, still damp from the previous day and tightened my drawstring once again. I'd had that rough initial exposure but maybe now I was adapted. I could turn things around and emerge from day two victorious.
NO. More of the same. Miserable and gasping for air in no more than 10 minutes. These were hour-long sessions. By the end of day two I hung up my shorts for good, in a competitive context, mind you. You bet I was still wearing them for a casual afternoon dip on my home turf.
At the end of the following week, the roster was posted. I had to go and check the list even though I already knew the result beyond the shadow of a doubt. I needed closure. I needed to know that swimming wanted me as little as I wanted it. I walked to the designated classroom after school to gaze upon the piece of paper posted on the teacher-swim-coach-hybrid's door. I scanned the list to find that I had not made the team. What a relief.