We stood at the wall as instructed. I watched as each person ahead of me leapt forward. An older woman (well, more advanced in age than me) closed her eyes, held her chin high and flailed her arms upon take-off. The young man in front of me with the goggles and hairy shoulder blades thrust his chest forward and opened his arms to embrace what came before him. Then it was my turn.
The preceding paragraph suggests an event more mysterious and exciting than the recent meeting of “Adult Swim Class, Beginner Level” it describes. Every week for two months, I will work toward mastering the basic crawl with my 19 classmates. I registered for the lessons because of embarrassment that my best stroke at age 40 is the dog paddle. I was mortified when the instructors were the two “kids” I thought were violating the age minimum for the designated adult swim time. I realized I would need to rely on my super power. No, not super human lung capacity but my overactive, writer’s imagination to transform each class into an amusing story to preserve what little dignity I have left.
So back to the wall episode. Tommy and Mike, our instructors, had us stand in a line along the wall of the pool’s edge (shallow end, of course). One by one, we were to swim in whatever manner we could to where they stood about fifteen feet away and they would then help each of us float on our backs. I observed my classmates from my position as last in line. It was sobering, at times funny, but ultimately inspiring.
I recognized the intense aqua-anxiety of some of my classmates from personal experience. I thought one woman was going to tear a chunk off the edge of the pool. She released after much coaxing, then flung herself with eyes closed and arms windmilling toward Mike. I don’t think her feet left the bottom of the pool.
The woman in the wet suit (that’s right: full-length, surfer-style) made me look cool even with my goggles, nose clip, ear plugs and shih tzu-style top knot. I didn’t laugh, though: My accessories give me comfort and the suit did the same for her, whether because she has anxieties or a skin condition or both.
There we all were, at the community pool on a week night, various ages and sizes, baring our bodies, fears and inabilities. I was inspired as I watched each person release the wall (some more reluctantly than others) and realized I was wrong. We weren’t exposing our inabilities but showing yes, we will plunge ourselves forward (even if we’re scared and/or embarrassed) because we have faith that we are capable.
Finally, it was my turn.
My classmates saw a 40-year-old do her best damn dog paddle toward Tommy, a guy young enough to be her son.
In my mind, I saw the amazing freestyle crawl I’ll do in my first triathlon.
This boricua goes pa’lante.