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“It’s been told that swimming is a wimp sport, but I don’t see it. We don’t get timeouts, in the middle of a race we can’t stop and catch our breath, we can’t roll on our stomachs and lie there, and we can’t ask for a substitution.” ~Dusty Hicks

After years of avoiding the pool, yesterday I took the plunge and re-emerged a swimmer. It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of hurdles to overcome before I dipped my toes into the water.

First of all I had to suit myself back up. I, of course, have bathing suits, but they are all “mom” suits — tankinis. Not ideal for swimming laps, believe me I’ve tried. Your belly bulge hangs out and every time you do a flip turn or push off the wall your bottoms reveal your butt crack. Lovely picture isn’t it? So to remedy this problem I headed off to Dick’s on Monday in search of a racing/lap suit.

I entered the store with a little trepidation, after all the last time I was in a racing suit I was 132 pounds, tone, and wore a size 28-32 depending on the time of year. (For those non-swimmers out there, the closer you get to championships, the smaller your suit gets.) So, like always when the Queen of Procrastination doesn’t want to do something, she avoids. I browsed the lacrosse equipment … and then the baseball aisle. I priced a bucket of balls, admired some flip-flops, glanced at the workout clothes, and then hesitantly I wandered over to the bathing suit section.

Ahh, I remember you Speedo, TYR, Finals. It’s been a long time, but I’ve never forgotten our years together. My old friends who spent 22 years in the water with me, and whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 18 years, accepted me back as if it were yesterday. The 28, 30s, and 32s were a little shy, but I think it was because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings when they pointed me in the direction of the 38s and 40s. I get it. I’m out of shape and a little jiggly around the midsection, but hey, my boobs are still the same size, they just sag a little bit lower (if that’s even possible with B-minus boobs).

Anyway, reluctantly I reached for a couple of Speedos in the bigger sizes and made my way to the dressing room … and almost cried. Anyone who says tanned fat looks better than white fat, definitely never saw their 40-year-old body being squeezed and misshapen in a Speedo. Ugh. My “mommy of twins” hips were dramatically “accentuated” and not positively, if I dare say. I could see the cellulite dimples in my thighs that I thought had begun to tone, and there was something protruding out of the back of suit besides my relatively large ass. “Is that back fat?” I asked the woman in the mirror. The woman hesitated a moment and began chewing nervously on her bottom lip. Then, with eyebrows raised, a deep sadness appeared in her eyes and she slowly nodded her head.

I looked dejectedly at the woman in the mirror. “This sucks,” but I was determined to leave that store with a one-piece racing suit. I took a moment to gather myself and then gathered all the air that remained in that cramped stall into my lungs, and let it out in one swift gust.

“Ok,” I said to the woman. “Let’s do this!”

It took a couple of more tries and a few more trips to the suit section before I realized that I had been away from my friend Speedo for so long that apparently our longstanding history clearly meant nothing to her. Our friendship had diminished. So, slightly hurt, I said a hasty goodbye to her (perhaps we’d meet again someday soon), and turned to my old friend TYR with a smile. “Help,” I squeaked. And she responded the way only true friends do. No judgments, no hurtful words, just the truth — I wasn’t a 22-year-old All-American swimmer anymore — and before I knew it she had found me a flattering suit, appropriate for this 40-year-old out of shape swimmer.

Feeling confident I made my way over to the bathing caps and goggles, grabbed some I thought suitable, and then checked out. I was ready to hit the pool the next day.

I awoke yesterday feeling excited, a little nervous, and knowing that I had better get to work posting my Nikki Stone blog or I would miss the “Water Works” workout I was planning to attend at 9. Needless to say by 8:30 I knew that wasn’t going to happen, so I quickly browsed the pool schedule in town and saw there was lap swim that day from noon to 1 p.m. Perfect!

I finished up what I needed to do, ate a late breakfast, and headed out the door with my backpack full of swim gear. When I got to the community center I checked in (realized I only had a week left on my three month membership and this was the first time I had used it), and headed to the locker room undeterred.

I had fifteen minutes to get ready and as I entered the adult locker room I gave myself a silent fist pump. It had been years since I had been in that locker room, and back then I wasn’t old enough to use the adult locker room. My friends and I used to try to catch a glimpse of the mysterious room each time a grown-up would emerge, wondering what secrets lie behind the door. I had caught a few glimpses of it when I used to bring the kids to the pool for swim lessons, but I never paid much attention to the decor. Well, I can now tell you exactly what it looks like. It’s a dated little room with ugly pink lockers, a tiled floor that smells like wet feet, and a mirror that almost spans the length of an entire wall. Fascinating stuff!

After my disappointment at the state of the “big girl locker room” had subsided, I quickly changed, being sure to avoid the mirror at all times, did some quick stretches and then waltzed into the pool area with the confidence of someone who belonged there. The faint scent of chlorine filled my nostrils as I glanced at the small 20-yard pool where my swimming career began. It seemed cleaner now, and the air was easier to breathe. “Hey Kelly.” I looked up and saw a familiar face greeting me. It was the lifeguard, who had grown up swimming, too. She had worked at the pool and as a swim coach for years, and she looked fantastic!

“Hey Lisa,” I replied.

“You getting back in the pool?” she asked.

“Trying to,” I said. “I thought it was time to get back in shape and nothing else seemed to be working so I figured I’d try swimming again after all these years. Besides it’s easy on the joints, everything else seems to hurt when I do it. You look great by the way. What have you been doing?”

And then she said the words that sealed the deal for me. The words that let me know that after being shunned by Speedo, pitied by the woman in the mirror, and embraced by my old friend TYR, that it all led up to this. I had made the right decision in coming back to start training again, and turn get back in shape. This was why I had come back to the pool.

“I started swimming again,” Lisa said very simply. She then went on to explain that she started off slow, making herself swim 30 minutes everyday after work, and then she began to add more yards as she became stronger. When she had lost a fair amount of weight in the pool, Lisa began running, and she is now the fittest and slimmest I’ve ever seen. And best of all, she was smiling about it. You could see the pride resonating off her as a result of this accomplishment. I wanted that. I wanted to be beaming again because I was fit, and tone, and healthy. I wanted to become a swimmer again!

Armed with the memory of Lisa’s smile, I grabbed a kick board, made my way to the edge of the pool, put on my cap and goggles, and then smiled at the water in front of me. This was always the hardest part. It could take 15 minutes at times growing up to persuade myself into a cold pool. But the water was just cool enough and welcoming yesterday, and as I slid my way into the water I felt as if had come home. That feeling did not leave me the entire 45 minutes I was in that pool.

I broke my workout into 200-yard increments, and alternated between swimming and kicking (200 yards of each). The water glided over my body, sliding gracefully and without judgement over the mom curves I had developed over the years. My arms and legs knew innately what to do, and when I came to the first wall, I questioned whether my adult-induced motion sickness would affect my ability to a flip turn, but I did it anyway. I was turned a little upside down for a second, but it got easier the more turns I did.

As I slid through the water effortlessly I could feel the burn begin in my triceps, but it felt good and familiar, so I continued on. My heart raced, and my breath began to quicken but still I didn’t stop. Not even the small pain at the base of my back stopped me. I swam through the pain knowing that after a few more workouts my core would tighten back up and the pain would slowly dissipate.

I did 2000-yards in 45 minutes, and I have to admit, it was the best I have felt in years. I was sore and tired, and reeked of chlorine, but I was exhilarated. I had taken the first step in changing up my exercise routine, completed the most difficult workout I had tried in years, and I had found a few old friends in the process.

I am sore all over today — arms, stomach, shoulders, back — but I’m loving it all. It’s all going to be worth it in a few weeks. You’ll see.

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