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The Rest of the Story


Written 3/11/2020


When I last reported on my synchronized swimming, now officially called artistic swimming as of March 2020, I had just tried out for the master’s competitive team. How thrilled I was to discover a team in the area and an opportunity to return to a sport I loved, but left, in fifth grade. I have now completed four weeks of a trial period with six other women new to the sport, or like me, a return to the sport from their grade school days. We spend two hours on Sunday afternoons working on the many stunts, called figures, building strength in our arms and legs while holding our breath underwater.


In the first week we lost Bonnie to hypothermia. I must admit we all find the water colder than we would like. The second week we lost Linda who was not physically prepared for what this sport required. The third week we lost Pat who became nauseated due to the upside-down twists and turns. And in week four, I am afraid I succumbed to leave-taking as well. It has taken this long for me to admit to myself that this beautiful sport and I are not compatible at age seventy.


Watching each of these women ‘fall from the roster’ has been affirming of the difficulty and physical demands of this sport. Still my eye was on the prize of doing beautiful formations, learning and stretching myself into figures I could not do in fifth grade. Being a competitive person, I was open to traveling with the team to competitions, complete in matching razzle dazzle swimsuits while artistically swimming in unison. Mostly I was content to simply learn, to challenge my seventy-year-old body in a new way.

I expected to be challenged.


I did not expect to be defeated.


With Pilates, yoga, jogging and swimming as part of my fitness routine, I felt confident I was in shape for this elegant sport that hides its difficulty. The ache in muscles and joints was normal and certainly would fade as my body found a comfortable partnership with the latest demands.


There is something slippery, hard to control in this sport. The exhaustion does not happen in the water, but once you are done. With most figures done upside down, the mental conditioning is demanding as well. One’s orientation is skewed. Concentration is key. Much like learning to drive on the left side of the road in a foreign country, a constant sense of awareness is crucial. I have also learned in my short time as an artistic swimmer, that the day following a workout, I am worthless, without energy. The fatigue so fierce, it requires a day in bed.


Don said he’s never seen me so wiped out. He expressed concern. While acknowledging this physical and mental depletion, I rationalized that time would make it better. Until this week.


This week our practice introduced more underwater figures, flips and turns. More like what will be required in our competitive schedule. After an hour and half, my stomach felt unsettled, my head woozy. I nodded to the coach that I was leaving and headed for the hot showers. My thirty-minute drive home was surreal. Turns and speed beyond 45mph were like rollercoasters. Arriving home, I immediately laid down to keep my head from spinning. The next morning, fatigue was my partner once again. Monday I spent the day in bed.


Tuesday morning Don and I sat across from each other in our comfy chairs, in front of the warm fire, drinking coffee.


“How are you feeling this morning?” he asked with concern.


“More like myself,” I responded. “I feel the exhaustion dissipating.”


“Shall we talk about you and synchronized swimming?” his caring heart asked.


“I know you are concerned. I am, too. Not once did I think it would take so much out of me. I cannot afford to be exhausted each week, nor can I push any harder. I’m not sure I can do this.”


Both of us sat in silence with the weight of the words just spoken.


“I want you to know that I don’t feel like a failure,” I said a few minutes later, breaking the silence. “I have given it my best. While there is an urge to push on through, I know it’s not wise.”


“I think the writing is on the wall,” Don responded with both a rational and loving heart.


“I think it is, too,” I nodded, then giggled. “Then there is the coach’s reminder to keep my feet aligned in doing a figure. She has no clue that they will never be aligned when you have a size 6.5 left foot and a size 8 right foot. They will always look off.”


I looked at Don. There was ease and comfort in our conversation as smiles joined our faces. Emotion and determination aside, you can’t change the size of your feet, not even for a sport you love.

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