Open Court publishes on Mondays and Fridays, bringing sports, life, and the stuff we need to talk about to your email (subscribe at opencourt.bulletin.com). Please feel free to comment, share, like and join the Open Court community.
The day after Labor Day is here. Yep, it’s technically another Tuesday on the calendar, meaning back to school, work, and life. It also means Hot Masked Everybody Summer is officially over. Time for Costco and Target to put the holiday decorations out and threaten my sanity by hearing Jingle Bells in September.
It’s a day of acute melancholy for those of us who love to swim outside all summer. In the Midwest, outdoor swim season is a special time, usually from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Once your pool is closed, it is done for the season. There will invariably be perfect days for swimming outdoors in September and October. We will all drive by our lap pools, look longingly at what might have been and shed a tear. Whhhhhhhhhyyyyy?
That used to be me, all emo about the loss of my outside heaven. But I have upgraded my outdoor swim game. My pool is still open, letting me enjoy being outside, swimming laps and maximizing our waning days of warmth in Michigan until mid-October.
What act of sorcery have I performed to keep my pool open, even after the Labor Day edicts of no white shoes and no outdoor pools kick in? Big sorcery. Cash money magic wand sorcery.
I belong a private sports club that keeps the outdoor pool and tennis complexes open, as long as it is warm enough to keep using it. Like we are game above 50 degrees. For those of you in Florida and Arizona shivering at the thought of swimming below 85 degrees, shield your eyes. The pool is heated. You can dress up in sweats and stay warm on deck. Please know that anything over 50 degrees is still flip-flops and shorts weather up here. As long as the snow is not above your flip-flops, you can still toddle to get the mail in them. (If you came to my Michigan State classes, you would see the younger set takes the temp rule down to 27 degrees. We have shorts sightings in December. I tend to chalk that up to more of a male laundry issue.)
But anyways… it IS warm enough right now to keep swimming. I hate the cold, so I am not being a hero.
Why is this such a big deal for me? I’ve been swimming a lot outside this summer, doing at least 3, one-hour sessions per week. My lap rate is adds up to usually a mile per session - at least 70 laps. I’ve recently gotten up to 1.25 miles in the hour. This summer’s mileage is at 46.75. Which is super cool.
Swimming it is a true escape for me. I am underwater, in my own world, nobody talking to me, no cell buzzing with texts or calls, no burning down world to think about, and I can just go into my subconscious and let go. It is detox for the soul and great exercise for the body. I think random thoughts, sing songs in my head, write things, or think about people or places I miss. It is a free form meditation that just happens to burn 800 calories an hour.
I don’t think about pace. I don’t watch the clock. Not doing a 200 on the up. (Swim geek speak for swimming a set of laps based on the clock.) I’ve been swimming since I was small, on swim teams since grade school and then did the high school swimming thing. I loved it, except I saw as a frosh that I was too short to make my laps count against the 6-foot-tall swimmers I was facing off against in the 500 free or 200 IM. The wingspan is real in swimming, and I am a sparrow next to the condors. I quit swimming competitively halfway through high school to do other things. Why train so hard, when your doom was sealed by genetics? I am tall for my family, but not in real life. I met my personal Katie Ledecky’s when I was 15 and waved the white flag.
Like in all other things, I am not a sprinter. I live for the grind, the distance, and the end game of wearing out the opponent with my soul and strength. Or to slide into a quote from Andy Roddick on Novak Djokovic…I come for your legs and then your soul.
Swimming became my haven again last summer, when the pool reopened after being closed due to state COVID restrictions. Being outside and doing something that was taken away meant the world to me. The pandemic seems to have long-term changed the club’s rules - and for the better. All lanes must be reserved by phone or through an app. One person per lane. No sharing. No claim-jumping. No skullduggery.
Their new rules are my nirvana. Before COVID, it was a free for all. Come to the pool, hope and pray that a lane was open. It there was somebody in the lane, then beg them to allow you to jump in. I was always polite and asked first. I never assumed I was going to be able to share. Sometimes I did share easily, but sometimes the answer was a hard no. Other times, the lanes were already packed and it made no sense to jump in. I’m all for sharing things, but dammit, I really want my own lane. I’ve gotten kicked in the head, whacked in the side, and even straight up rammed by people who have no clue how to share or circle swim.
My favorite person – the self-assured lap dude – is always lurking. He is the legend in his own mind who doesn’t swim laps, but feels the need on this day to take your lane so he can work out his inner Michael Phelps. It’s happened so many times. They just jump in, don’t ask first, and dare you to throw them out. Before you know it, they are swimming straight down the middle…and you have been effectively thrown out of your own lane. I never hail the 15-year-old lifeguard for lane policing. I’ve been in that position when I was a teen lifeguard, and it sucks. Last thing you want to do is have to ref a dispute between adults, especially when you will get the pool version of manspreading as the excuse.
Thanks to COVID, I now have my lane all to myself. And it is spiritual. No interruptions.
Well, almost none. I had an attack of lap dude earlier this summer. He jumped into my lane, SAYING HE DID NOT SEE ME SWIMMING 15 FEET FROM HIM. I just stopped swimming and stood my ground in the middle. Stand-off. My lane, dude. Best of all, when I asked him if he had a reservation, he got meek and a little cutesy. He didn’t know! Not his fault! He asked if I minded if his wife swam in my lane too. Yes, I do mind. I mind you, I mind your wife. Did you have a reservation? NOPE. See ya. I waved him out, like he got a game misconduct in hockey. FWIW, the wife came by a few seconds later and apologized – he didn’t realize you just couldn’t jump into a lane (and see a person and take it anyways; my sotto voce.) Swimming interrupted for 5 minutes. Zen restored when back in the freestyle groove.
So I will have my happy zone for another six weeks. I will bask in the joy of swimming outside, seeing the trees changing color and the sky still painted bright blue with a warm sun, churning laps with the real die-hard lap crowd.
I do not take this for granted. Because the cold and snow are on their way, and my swimming groove will move inside. Live for today. Always.
Just keep swimming (outside). Until the world pushes me indoors again.
See ya Friday.