jayellebee's Blog

March 4, 2010

A Heated Fountain of Youth

Filed under: Published Pieces — Joanne @ 11:34 pm

(Originally printed in the Contra Costa Times, “Real Life” feature, February 25, 2006)

I like to swim.  Always have.  But I’ve never considered myself a real swimmer.  When I ventured out in the 48-degree weather over Presidents Day weekend, with snow dusting Mount Diablo, to swim at Heather Farm, even I began to question my sanity.

My back is aging faster than the rest of me.  Way faster than the inner me, who still masquerades as a twentysomething.

I decided swimming might strengthen the muscles of my ancient back.  Time to coax that spine back into line.  Or is the word alignment?  So, I bought a cheap warm-up suit and rubber flip-flops in January, then pulled an old, faded swimsuit from the bottom drawer of my dresser.

Fifty-six bucks and change netted me a fifteen-visit pass to the aquatic center at Heather Farm Park in Walnut Creek.  I figured fifteen visits was plenty of time to determine if Ponce de Leon’s elusive water filled the pool.

Visit One presented an unanticipated hurdle:  The locker room.  I hadn’t felt so self-conscious since tissues tumbled from my training bra while changing into gym clothes in junior high.  Note to self:  Swim early in the day.  There’s nothing like being naked in the communal shower when the high school girls arrive for swim team practice.

Most of my swimming has been in a lake.  “Cement ponds” take some getting used to.  For one thing, strings of colored plastic thingees divide the water into lanes.  I’m pretty sure “thingee” is the correct technical term.

Thingees serve multiple functions.

First, thingees look very official and neat.  They validate the swimming experience.  Being in the water isn’t quite regimented.  But it’s not just fun and games, either.

Second, thingees keep swimmers from wandering into one another’s space.  No one else seems to meander.  But, crashing into the thingees tells me when to make a course correction.  Countless head-on collisions have been avoided.

Third, the colored thingees are strung in a pattern.  Yellow, blue, yellow, blue all the way across the pool.  Until you get to the last fifteen feet, or so.  Then all the thingees are blue.  It’s very pretty.  I count how many paterns I float past while I’m swimming sidestroke, looking right at them.  I know it’s almost time to turn around when I get to the all-blue section.

The pool at Heather Farm has flags strung over the water.  Very festive, and color-coordinated with the thingees.  That was my first impression.  Then, while doing a lap of backstroke, I passed under the flapping pennants.

A thought struck me right after my head struck the side of the pool.  When I can’t see the thingees, the flags warn me I’m almost a the end of the lane.  Nice touch.

There are tiled stripes on the bottom of the pool extending from one side to the other.  One stripe centered under each lane.

This helps me swim in a straight line when I’m doing my imitation of freestyle.  Black tiled crosses on the side of the pool tell me to stop when I can’t see the thingees or the flags.  Those pool people thought of everything.

I settled into a comfortable routine over the course of my first six or seven swims.  I even learned how to scan my prepaid visitor’s card, and which lockers work.  But, I still have one nagging question:  What are the black and white striped do-hickies?  Do-hickie.  Another technical term.

Do-hickies are about twelve inches long, maybe six inches wide, two inches thick and shaped something like the number eight.  They appear to be made of poly-something-or-other, like the kickboards.  There are gaggles of them and nobody uses them.

My imagination wrestles with this mystery as I do my laps.  Something to squeeze between my feet while swimming using only my arms?  Something to fill out my sagging swimsuit?  I’ll keep an eye on the other swimmers.  Misuse of a do-hickie is potentially much more embarrassing than cellulite in the locker room.

On President’s Day weekend, I used the seat warmer in my car while I drove to my eighth visit.  My flip-flopped toes needed not just a heater but a de-icer.  Why was I doing this to myself?  Then, my spirits rose when I hit green lights all the way along Ygnacio Valley Road from Interstate 680 to the Park.  A good omen, for sure.

Steam clouded the surface of the 80-degree pool water.  Music drifted over from the diving pool where a synchronized swimming team was practicing.  Something I hadn’t witnessed before.  Legs sliced through the air in unison.  Then arms.  A flying body somersaulted.

I slipped into the Fountain of Youth and glided along, timing my strokes to the music, fighting the impulse to do a handstand.

Hey, Mom, look at me.  I’m a swimmer!


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