When you have a personality as intense as mine, with a brain whose neurons probably resemble something along the lines of a bird's eye view of the Los Angeles freeway system on a Friday night, life can be pretty noisy. My mind goes and goes and goes ALL THE TIME. It never shuts off. It's not like I am constantly thinking up new ideas or coming up with the next great invention or anything (though, my idea for a Sleep Number Bike Saddle is ingenious, in my opinion). No, I wish I were that clever. Mostly, I rehash the things I have said, done, looked at, screwed up, and forgotten during the previous day, week, month, year, or decade.
And I think my dad saw that in me at a very early age.
I was an edgy kid, mouthy and spunky and talkative in a small family that believed in the old "children should speak when spoken to" philosophy. And I had no real substantive outlet.
My father pushed my brother into competitive swimming, and my brother was really good. Like, elite good. Circumstances kept us from knowing one another, but I always knew of him and what an outstanding swimmer he was. While my father never pushed me into competitive swimming, he did push me into the pool at around 2 years old in an effort to get me to swim. And boy, did I swim from the get-go.
Over the years of my mid to late childhood, my father taught me how to do a proper entry dive, a pretty good flip turn, and the four basic strokes. We never had the money for me to club swim, but he had me swim laps in our neighborhood pool. Rain or shine, he had me swim laps. My hunch is that he knew I would love it, partly because of the freedom I felt in the water and the smile on my face when I was in it, but also because it shut everything out and turned my brain off for but a moment. And I stopped the incessant jibber-jabbering that annoyed my parents so much when I was out of the water.
He was so right. Not about most things. But he was spot-on about swimming and me.
To say that I love swimming is the grossest understatement possible. As a child, I followed Olympic swimmers like most girls follow boy bands today. My Rob Lowe and Johnny Depp posters were accompanied by clippings of Matt Biondi and Janet Evans. I dreamt of swimming competitively, of having a gold medal around my neck, even though I knew it was not in the cards for me.
So I settled for my regular black line therapy.
There is something ritualistic and therapeutic about the back and forth of swimming laps. The rhythm it creates allows me to only focus on one thing - lap counting - and not the 50 different thoughts competing for attention in my head. I can be quiet, and the world can go on without me for a few brief minutes, and I just don't care.
I had the privilege and the opportunity to swim on my high school team. I didn't take those years for granted, and I enjoyed every lap and every second. Even when I came in last in a race, I relished my ability to stand on the starting block and swim a 100, a 200, or a 500. I was never a great or a particularly fast swimmer, but I was a giddy one.
I know a lot of people who find the idea of swimming back and forth, back and forth torturous, pointless even. I guess I understand that. These are often the people who like to run miles and miles and miles without abandon. You'll not find me feeling that passionate about running, though. For me, the weightlessness of the water lifts the burdens of life, and allows me to unwind. I can swim for hours without stopping, once I get into a groove.
So I guess, kind of like the runner's high, I am one of the lucky ones that knows the joy and elation of the swimmer's high. Staring at the black line does not bore me. Rather, it centers me.