Sunday, February 26, 2006

Because I want to.

Have you heard of the game called "I Have Never"? It's a party game I remember playing as a teenager in the late eighties, and the point was (happily for me) to be the least experienced. You'd go around the circle trying to come up with something that you thought everybody else would have done, and at the end you'd see who had the most non-experiences.

I won a lot. I'd never been to Disneyland. I'd never been waterskiing. I'd never been snow skiing. I'd never broken a bone. Most kids had experienced at least a few of these, if not all. I had a couple that I could have used, but didn't -- high schoolers can be unbelievably cruel to those who haven't been around the block quite enough times, so I found elaborate ways to avoid mentioning that I had never been kissed.

The other one I tried not to bring attention to was the fact that I could not swim. Well, I could, sort of, but it was pretty sad. I knew how to dog paddle well enough to navigate the ten feet from the diving board to the ladder in the lake at camp, but there was no way I was "swimming" any farther than that. I had no intentions of putting my face underwater for any longer than it took to jump off the board in a spectacular cannonball, knees tucked up and nose firmly pinched between my fingers.

Part of this was due to the fact that we did not happen to own a lake. The pond in our back field was seasonal (you'll understand this if you live in the Pacific Northwest), and even then it was more mud than water and I doubt it ever surpassed a depth of six inches. The neighbors had an aboveground pool, but its primary purpose was for splashing. I don't think it ever occurred to us to actually try to swim in it, since that would have severely cramped the style of the serious splashers.

The only time I had access to a significant quantity of water was summer camp. Camp Glendawn was a delightful expanse of forest and field that wandered from a country road to the shore of a lake. I believe the official designation was "Five Mile Lake", but I never heard it called anything but "Root Beer Lake" due to the unique color of the water, in which your feet disappeared once you were in past your knees. I suppose I could have learned to swim at camp, but there was so much flirting to be done that I never quite got around to it.

I graduated from high school, left my summer camp years, and went to college. My college was small, and while it was intellectually rich, it was less materially wealthy, and there was no thought of having a pool. After graduating with the bare minimum of phsyical education requirements (Independent Study Walking and Jogging covered half of it), I entered adult life, still essentially unable to swim.

It's not really a skill you need all that often. In my small world of home, church, and grocery store, there weren't that many floods, unless you count the time we attempted to bathe the cat. I was more interested in perfecting my melodic minor scales and my chocolate chip cookie recipe than my backstroke, and I never felt the lack.

Then I walked the marathon, discovered that my body could actually do something besides read and cook and play the piano, and a whole new world opened up. I started thinking that if I could do a marathon, maybe a triathlon wasn't so out of the question. There were the minor details of not owning a bicycle or knowing how to swim, but reality hadn't stopped me for a second while I was training for the marathon, so why get bogged down in the details now?

I got a bike for Christmas, theoretically speaking. It took over six weeks for it to stop raining long enough for me to take a few test rides, but I finally got one. So far so good.

The swimming wasn't going so well. I had started taking lessons last November from a local college student, and while she was encouraging and upbeat, I was too cynical to ignore the fact that I seemed to sink every time I put my face in the water. Since triathlons are not conducted six feet below sea level, this was a problem. I had practiced my rapidly degenerating freestyle stroke until I was convinced that the next time I got into the water, it would surge up in a giant wave and drown me, just to save me the trouble of doing it myself.

I told my swim instructor that if I had to do any more freestyle, I would quit. By this point she was familiar enough with my strong opinions to know that I meant it, so she taught me the backstroke. To our surprise, I turned out to have a killer backstroke. Unfortunately, doing the backstroke during a triathlon runs the risk of you blindly swimming off-course (best-case scenario) or crashing into another swimmer and knocking yourself unconscious and having to be hauled out of the water and resuscitated and then throwing up lake water all over your rescuer and probably ending up on the front page of the Oregonian looking like a dead fish (worst-case scenario). We tried the breaststroke next, and while it was less natural for me, I did manage to learn it without actually drowning, so that was progress.

I have another swim lesson this Friday, and we are going to attack the freestyle in earnest this time. It scares me silly. I have no reason to learn to swim other than this triathlon, and I have no reason to do a triathlon other than that I want to. I am learning, though, that whether or not I can articulate it any more clearly than "Because I want to", sometimes that's a good enough reason.

So I will practice this week, try not to drown, and try to cross one more thing off of my "I Have Never" list. I'd like to see if maybe when I'm 81 years old or so, I could lose that game every time.

Reasonable goal? Probably not.

Interesting goal? You bet.


At 2/27/2006, Blogger Anna said...

I love to swim, but only in chlorinated water that is clear enough to see to the bottom of the deep end. It's a long story, but the short version is that I've avoided natural bodies of water ever since I was little. The exception being the ocean, but since I grew up in the Midwest, my ocean experiences are limited.

I took lessons for a little bit when I was six or seven, and again when I was about ten. The most I remember from them is being able to push off from the wall underneath the water and wriggle as far as I can go before coming up for air and sort of dog paddling to the edge to push off again.

Then I started going swimming with some friends in the morning before work a year after college. One of them had been on her high school swimming team. The other one would have been if she hadn't been home schooled. I learned freestyle from them. At first it was difficult and I swallowed a lot of water. Then one day, it clicked. Eventually, I got to the point where I could swim a mile in about 45 minutes, almost non-stop. This was quite impressive for someone who less than two months earlier could barely do a length without needing to catch a breather while hanging off the edge of the pool.

Anyway. My point is, keep it up. Eventually it will click (like your jogging/running did), and you'll be just fine.

At 2/27/2006, Blogger Brenda said...

Thank you for the encouragement! I'm still waiting for the "click". My backstroke is going well, but everything else is still very conscious. It's starting to feel like it's taking forever, but I'll keep plugging away.

At 2/27/2006, Blogger XSRocks said...

So this is it?! A cheap imitation of MySpace. So what if it's easier to use? Get gritty woman! Knuckle down, get some grease under your fingernails. Lean how to use a wratchet. Fix those bothersome problems pulling hangnails off instead of clipping them. This is Amerika...ya gotta get tough.

Hugs for ya!

At 2/28/2006, Blogger Brenda said...


Yup, this is it. And if I want to edit something, I can click on a single link and be there, instead of having to sign in with a username and password every time and follow several more links to find what I want. If I want to send it to somebody, they can read it without having to sign up for myspace. You're supposed to be able to do that, and it says right on the invitation feature that you can. You can't, though, and they opted never to respond to my queries about it. If I can't get customer service, I'd rather use something simpler that doesn't require customer service to make it do what it says it will do.

Ehhh, it's still the same words. Same girl, different hat. Buck up, embrace change! ;)

At 2/28/2006, Blogger XSRocks said...

Brenda ~
Blogger was actually the first place I started blogging (on the web)about 3.5 years ago and, believe it or not, Blogger did not used to be quite so user friendly. I tried to change several things in my old account and it messed the account up so much it was useless, at least to me, so I departed.
I follow you around the net because I enjoy reading your stories no matter the hat. Thanks for leaving a trail. :-)

At 8/02/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i went to camp glendawn, too! when did you go? i use to live there all summer for several years. is there any way you could email me and tell me who you are without everyone seeing my email address?

At 8/03/2006, Blogger Brenda said...

To the person who posted anonymously -- I can't e-mail you unless you give me your address, which you are welcome to do at, my "junk" online address. Put something in the subject line about the camp, since it is usually just spam on that account.

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