This is where I swim three days a week. I’m sure you could care less about the building, but I thought I should anchor you in a location before I speak further.
This is the general look of the interior, with as you can barely see, a “river” that is currented, and further to the back of the picture, lap lanes. There are three irregular pools of surrounding the river, one of them being heated to temperatures that makes it therapeutic. It is here that the water aerobics classes are conducted.
You can see from this that the pool serves a myriad of purposes: the lessons for small children (see the water slide to the left as well as the wading pool in the front right), lap lanes for the physically fit swimmers, the river for those who are out of shape but want to gain some leg strength by strolling with or against the current, and the side pools where Styrofoam “weights” can be used for workouts. The super heated pool is for those in need of healing water therapy and low, easy aerobic exercises used mainly to limber up old bodies. The second floor houses weight equipment and aerobic and yoga classes.
Since I was not “physically fit” I opted out quickly from laps to aerobics, and once I had learned some basic good exercises for training, I went off to a side pool where I now go Wednesday thru Friday to “workout”. Increasingly, I’m able to swim across the small pool several lengths and can circuit the river without being exhausted. Since I don’t play well with others, I find my own workout routine perfect for me.
But that is not what this is about. The pool has become a microcosm of life. It’s most extraordinary. It reminds me to be so thankful for what I can do, for so many are living with so much less.
There are of course the bright-eyed toddlers who revel in the water, being cooed over by doting (it’s always doting isn’t it?) parents and helpful pool personnel who declare “good job” to every successful dunking under water and flapping of limbs. But they are not the story.
I can say without hesitation that most of the folks who frequent the pool are the elderly, in various stages of decomposition. They stretch and groan in delight at the extra warm water caressing arthritic shoulders and knees. They laugh and act like children, led by a jolly old elf who is round as a donut and waddles, but is undoubtedly hard muscled from four hours a day of “faster!” and “just ten more!” exclamations of authoritative leadership.
Some come in wheel chairs and gingerly walk the long ramp into the water, on legs that are so worn as to be nearly useless but can still traverse a few yards. Others limp and hobble with canes and walkers to the edge, discarding their evidence of fitlessness to enter the realm of fantasy.
Why fantasy? Because the soothing soft delicious kiss of water surrounding one, gives the illusion of weightlessness and grace. One feels like a ballerina able to glide and turn with ease. One feels light, buoyant, free.
The tools of mobility having been cast asunder, limbs act like the limbs of youth.
Later in the locker room, the rude truth wills out again. Bodies sag and wrinkle again. Each looks but doesn’t look at the other, noting better arms, worse thighs, and oh those sagging balloons that once stood proudly upon the chest of a twenty-one year old.
But there is more.
On the river, the serious student trudges against the current, leg weights on, forging calf and thigh muscles made of steel. She passes the couple that is never without a smile, stopping to chat with everyone who will. I learned to smile broadly, say “morning” and keep on trucking lest I waste fifteen minutes in small talk. Also passing are the two rather rotund ladies who keep up a constant chatter for their thirty minutes as they walk as slow as it is possible to while still moving, with the current, and then stop at a nice little coffee shop for a Danish and coffee, congratulating themselves on their commitment to fitness.
A couple brings their intellectually challenged child to the pool and carry her through the water while she periodically shrieks. It is impossible to know whether the shrieks are of joy or terror. It is wild and high-pitched and startles everyone until we all feign ignorance and do not interject ourselves by stares into that life story. Another brings a child in a wheelchair and spend thirty minutes unsuccessfully trying to coax her into the water. This happens every time they come.
A man, over four hundred pounds, struggles to get out of the pool, holding both railings, and taking one step at a time, with an interval of minutes between each. A time in the pool, leaves one feeling utterly weighted down by an extra 200 pounds when you step out and gravity resumes it pull. You wonder if he will return. You note all those seriously obese who have not, or stopped after a couple of weeks.
I’ve met the nicest people here. I am humbled by so many of them. The woman who twenty years ago suffered a massive stroke in childbirth and learned to diaper one-handed, struggles to get in and out of the pool, still burdened with a hamstring that never returned to use and an arm that is useless still. The woman who was nearly bent over with arthritis in her back, who is limber now, but still a widow and lamenting how to climb up high enough to get the cobwebs her husband used to get. The man who walks with a cane and is to say the least, a mass of wrinkled skin dripping off tired bones, who is heading for El Paso for a dinner date with his girl friend later in the evening.
I return home, relaxed, tired, and as I pull in the driveway and Diego races to the car whimpering his welcome, and the Contrarian looks up from his saws and routers and sanders to smile and say “have a good swim?” I consider myself most lucky to be in the shape I’m in at 62.
You can teach an old dog new tricks I learn.