Meditations of a struggling swimmer

I wanted to take the kids to the Ouabache State Park pool before it closes for the summer, to show them where my siblings and I used to swim and to practice my freestyle stroke in what I hoped was a less crowded weekday venue.

We weren’t there long and I forgot to take pics. This shot from a review of the state park comes from

The first order of business was carving out a space where I wouldn’t bump into anybody. Colleen and I claimed an imaginary lane the width of the pool, which worked out pretty well because I only had to take a couple of breaths to get across. Less intimidating that way.

After awhile my 9-year-old coach got distracted and I switched over to my trusty sidestroke, which is what I’ll likely end up doing at this next triathlon anyway. Gliding along — or at least sputtering less — I found myself contemplating the Allison Ballard mindset. Could I ever feel so at home in the water that I could just get absorbed in the motion without straining and overthinking everything?

This quickly devolved into a meditation on why I get so fixated on all the yucky crap that might be lurking in the water. I prefer pools over murky lake water anyway, and all it takes is one icky anecdote — like Traci mentioning she saw a tampon floating in Pine Lake the other day — to destroy my resolve.

But then I read about how Olympic swimmers pee in the pool, and it makes me realize there’s just no such thing as pristine water anywhere on the planet.

Is this yet another case where a tendency toward perfectionism is getting in my way? Can I possibly stop thinking of water as needing to meet this or that unattainable standard and just accept it for what it is — a space shared with other creatures large and small?

If I were scuba diving, this wouldn’t even be an issue. I’d be in explorer mode. Which, granted, isn’t a great mindset for triathlons. Still, maybe that’s a stair step toward creating the mental state that enables me to deal with living bodies of water — to move past those very rare occasions where I encounter something unpleasant, whether it’s a tangle of weeds or some other human’s leg kicking me in the head.

Somewhere during this meditation Colleen returns from the diving boards to gripe at me for reverting to sidestroke, so I switch over to trying a few widths of freestyle holding my head out of the water.

Is it possible to do this with even a shred of elegance? I try to minimize excessive flopping and flailing by resting the side of my head in the water on one stroke and just lifting it a little facing forward on the next.

I don’t know if that really helps or not. But I do know that back in the 80s my dad did a triathlon swimming freestyle with his head out of the water.  And if he ever does another one — which he actually mentioned the other day, speculating that maybe he could swim and bike and then just speedwalk the 5K on his gimpy knees — I’m pretty sure that’s how he’d do it this time as well.

If a guy who’s coming up on age 70 so can swim a 500 with his head out of the water, I ought to be able to do it, too. But even if I don’t adopt his method, I ought to at least contemplate his mindset, because I know he doesn’t tremble at the thought of jumping in a lake.

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