by Vivian I. Zumstein
As I step into the water, I utter a slight gasp. Our pool is heated to only 82 degrees. While gathering my courage, I stand up to my waist in the shallow end, inhaling the scent of chlorine and fiddling with my goggles. Then I force myself to dunk. Not able to gasp under water, my body responds with an outbreak of goose bumps instead.
Shivering, I kick off the wall for my workout. I feel both the chill and my bodys resistance to exertion as I stroke the length of the pool. The chill subsides quickly; the resistance remains. Its familiar company for at least 15 lengths.
Sensing my surroundings distracts me. Four lengths into the workout, the water feels great; no longer cold, just right. I revel in the buoyancy. Im not heavy, but I have very small feet for my height, so they carry more pounds than they should. It feels wonderful to have my weight suspended as I slip through in the water. I warm up with breaststroke, building to a higher heart rate before switching to crawl.
The sun beats down, but I dont feel its heat; I see it. The waves on the pool surface refract the suns rays, casting bright wavy lines on the bottom: a fishnet of light, ever shifting positions. With each stroke, the shadows of my arms stretch ahead of me. Peter Pan flits through my mind. Tiny bubbles trail from my fingertips, the bright sun making them sparkle like a million floating diamonds in front of my eyes.
I exhale under water. Air percolates past my ears, gurgling. It reminds me of the sound under the hull of a small boat as its rowed with vigorous strokes.
Im in the heart of my workout now. Resistance disappears; my body moves on autopilot. With satisfaction, I see and feel my right hand knife the water before pulling my body forward. My left hand follows. I note it lacks the elegance of my right. It slaps the water rather than slicing it. I try not to let this bother me. If speed were my goal, it would be an important flaw to fix. But these days Im interested in expending calories, and an inefficient stroke uses more energy. In a strange way, my sloppy left arm has become an advantage.
I make steady progress up and down the pool. At every turn, I curse my inability to learn the flip-turn. Pushing off the wall hard, I feel the strength of my legs as I glide forward. I count the lengths. The pools so short its easy to lose track. I pay more attention to my waterproof wristwatch. After 30 minutes I am done, regardless of distance.
I breathe every stroke, my efforts fueling a greater demand for oxygen. As I roll my head to the side gasping, I catch glimpses of my poolside garden. Without glasses my vision is blurred, but I make out patches of bright yellow black-eyed Susans, white Shasta daisies and the pink haze of low lying begonias against the green background of surrounding forest.
Finally its time to cool down. I return to breaststroke. I am hot, but the water cools as it flows past my body. My heart rate and breathing return to normal. I pull myself out of the pool, dripping.
I realize with regret that I only have a few more weeks to swim. Soon the kids will return to school. Cooler weather will make the pool too expensive to heat for just my daily laps. I will have to return to walking for exercise. No more gliding, no more buoyancy, no more sparkling, gurgling bubbles. Just my too-small feet pounding the pavement.
Vivian Zumstein is a retired Navy commander, the mother of four and soccer coach in Calvert County. She last reflected on peaches on July 21.