In my defense, I was nearly finished with my swim. By the time he showed up I had completed either 17 or 28 laps (I sometimes lose count because I’m an English major).
So I was tired. Let’s get that straight.
I like to swim in the center lane because most folks take the outsides so they can climb out more easily. I’d rather duck under three floating lane dividers and dodge Butterfly-stroke Man on my way to the side than swim next to someone. Nothing against other swimmers, but I’m a tad competitive and I have an attention deficit, which means I can’t ignore people.
Of course, he chose the lane next to mine.
At first I felt no threat. He was easily in his 90s, sitting at the pool’s edge, dangling his feet in the water while he donned his goggles. I sized him up as I approached: scrawny arms, boney knees. I could take him.
He still hadn’t entered the water when I reached the end of my lane. I didn’t stop, but made a quick U-turn and sped away. (No, not like the Olympic athletes who gracefully sink at exactly the right point, flip around, and magically jettison across the pool like a bullet; I tend to meet the wall, take a gasping breath, yank my too-small cap back down over my ears, empty the water from my goggles, and then splash out about a whole foot before I level off).
I was surprised, therefore, when I turned around at the opposite end of the pool and there he was right beside me. He kicked off the wall and was already gliding effortlessly away, leaving me panting at the wall, collecting chlorine in my gaping mouth.
Oh, heck no. This wasn’t going to happen. I may not be a spring chicken. Ok, I’m not even a summer chicken anymore, but I could take him.
I vaulted off the wall and stretched out fully. (For you non-swimmers, it’s like when you run past someone you know and somehow get taller and start breathing the way you should have been all along. The difference is that at the pool, the only one to notice is the lifeguard, and let’s just say ours wasn’t a Baywatch lifeguard candidate and leave it at that.)
Determined to catch my nonagenarian, I put every ounce of energy I could muster into that lap. I spread open my fingers for maximum water displacement, grabbed at the water the way a hole-digging dog tosses back dirt, and started kicking my feet as fast as I could. In my mind I looked like an electric mixer on high speed, but I could tell when I passed the lifeguard that I probably looked somewhat less efficient.
To show him I was ok, I made my concentration face—drawing my eyebrows close together in a serious frown. Unfortunately, doing anything eye-related while wearing swimming goggles breaks the seal. Water poured in, half-filling the left lens. I closed my left eye and with the other I looked at the lifeguard, giving a small smile to show that he needn’t worry but swallowing some serious pool water in the process. He stood up, staring at me intently. Ol’ Motorboat Legs was reaching the far side again, a full three lengths ahead of me. He was hardly trying at all and yet I couldn’t keep up! I was amazed and ashamed.
I hit the wall and paused, pretending to adjust my cap so he could take off solo. If I let him get far enough ahead, perhaps my competitive spirit would lay off. But it didn’t. I exhausted myself trying to catch him again.
He swam only three or ten more laps or so, which was fortunate for me because I was spent, and the lifeguard was still in alarm mode. Gramps then bobbed under the lane lines, dodged Butterfly-stroke Man, and climbed the ladder.
That’s when I saw his feet for the first time. Flippers. The man was wearing flippers. Big. Long. Superpower flippers.
I drove home feeling foolish, and perhaps a bit wiser. I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others. I’m exactly who I’m supposed to be, and my only goal should be to improve upon my own abilities.
I notice that in my writing life too. I catch myself whining because I’m not making money yet, like those writers who have been at it for longer than two months. There are no writing flippers, although I wish there were. It’s just going to take time.
Still, I’m not done with Mr. Frog Feet. Same time tomorrow morning, buddy, but this time I’ll catch you. I’ll carb up tonight and enter the water with my goggles cinched so tight my ears will flatten. Best of all, I’ve got a fancy high-power backstroke that will blow you out of the water…if the lifeguard doesn’t pull me out first.