8.14.2007

By Request


Spence wanted me to write about my first time on the mountain bike, which I've already done. She also asked if I've considered getting a road bike or doing a triathlon. I used to have a road bike, when I was at school in Athens, where knocking off bikers isn't a sport. Here in Atlanta, you have to enjoy the competition of bike vs. SUV, and I do not. As I mentioned before, I ran a few marathons in my youth, so it follows that I thought about doing a triathlon.

I did, in fact, train for the one in Callaway Gardens. This was back in '83. I was running about 50 miles a week, riding my bike, and working out with weights. This, in addition to classes and the two or three restaurant jobs I always juggled. My weakness was swimming, since the only swimming I'd ever done was during Marco Polo. Oh, I could keep myself afloat; I could swim over to the poolside tiki bar, but I'd never swum for sport or exercise.

So I started going to Stegman, UGA's big athletic facility, in the evenings to swim laps. And I was pretty pleased with myself that from the get-go I could swim a mile with no problems. I set a goal to work up to a relaxed two miles and then start working on speed. I showed up at the same time every night, all by my lonely, did my laps, and went on my way, satisfied with my progress.

After a couple of weeks, I started noticing the other "regulars" at the pool. These included some members of the UGA swim team, of course, all shoulders and thighs, and their coach, a middle-aged man I'd catch pacing over me at the end of my lane, a man who apparently wanted to say something but couldn't.

I assumed he was impressed with my endurance. Maybe he wanted me on the team. He didn't have a lecherous look in his eye, so I didn't suspect he was like most of the thirty-to-sixty-year-old men I encountered in that candy store of a college town. Eventually, his expression changed from restraint to a combination of worried, frustrated, and slightly appalled. One night, he finally broke down:

"Hey, what are you doing?" he asked me.

"I'm training for a triathlon. I'm up to two miles." I was bragging, about to launch into my weekly regimen, etc., but he was on a roll.

"Well, you look like a tractor in the water," he said, "and I can't stand it anymore."

I was a tiny pillar of fitness. I weighed all of 104 and prided myself on being able to fit into a girls' 14 Speedo. Tractor?!

He offered, "Let me give you swimming lessons. It won't cost you anything. It will spare me the agony of watching you do what you're doing."

Wow. That really smarted. I mean, I didn't have many illusions about myself. I knew I had no coordination. I was clumsy--not cut out for tennis, or basketball, or golf. Which is why I chose sports like distance running and biking, where I relied more on strenth of will, my ability to hang in there. I figured it was the same with swimming--just do the distance. But here I was, offending someone with my lack of grace. I was suddenly sure everyone in the facility had been laughing at me all along, joking about buying me some floaties.

I met him for only one lesson. I felt like a four-year-old. I imagined everyone was watching us. The likelihood of my synchronizing my strokes, kicks, and breathing was the same as my sinking a three-pointer. He had taken all the fun out of my training. After, I thanked him, dried off, and went to change. I left my suit hanging in the locker room.

I never went back. I never did the triathlon. My kids always ask me why I won't get in the water.

Isn't that a sad story?

6 comments:

Kathy said...

That is sad story, especially since it sounds like instructor had good intentions and didn't mean to take your joy.
Started training for mini triathlon last summer - knew bike and run would be slow, but ok. Worried about open lake swim - got rec center membership, did laps, and hated every minute of it (water was wet, had to put on bathing suit... etc). Ex swim champ Randy tried to give me some tips - I couldn't get my body to follow any of them. Maybe we could do a biathlon?

Tania Rochelle said...

It would be a good excuse for a visit...

ads. said...

T-with your red hair, I think you'd look stunning in a John-Deere-green suit...(sorry, couldn't help myself).

I think that's crap- both that he did that AND that you stopped swimming altogether. It's his job to be critical, but it should have confined to his job. You said "strength of will", so who says it hasta be perfect freakin' form. It's like Eric Clapton approving every song you learn on your guitar. DIFFERENT STROKES.
I don't know...is there more to a triathalon than just getting it done? I'd like to know, 'cause I've been thinking about trying it.

Spence said...

OK, kids, I'm heading to the ATL in a few short weeks and anyone who wants to join me can come along for some tri fun. The more the merrier!

TR - SHAME on that guy for what he said to you. 2 miles of swimming is REALLY great, not to mention the fact that you got in there and DID IT every night - which is more than that guy's sorry a$$ could claim. And what DOES a tractor look like swimming anyhow? That's just plain dumb. And mean.

Anyone who has comfort enough in the water to persevere the way you were can race in triathlon. ANYONE. I'd say that over 50% of triathletes just get thru the swim - survive it - and then hammer on the bike and run to make up for it. This is totally a viable option and I've seen people doing the backstroke and breaststroke during races. After all, it's not a swim race, it's a triathlon and therefore includes all three sports...you certainly don't have to be a star at all three, which my 11 minute running miles will attest to.

My personal strength is the swim - but it wasn't always...I prefer to be in the top 25% out of the water and then watch half of the remaining 75% pass me on the bike while the other half pass me on the run and I manage to finish somewhere in the bottom 25%. But that's just me. (and really, I'd call it less of a preference and more of a...default option).

I think if you want to give it another go, you would do GREAT. (And Kathy and ads. should come too!!) I'm happy to offer some swim tips if need be but honestly, if you can comfortably put your face in the water and swim for more than 14 minutes, you're golden.

Thanks for sharing the story and so sorry it was so traumatic!!!

And Kathy - there is such a thing as a duathlon... it's a run-bike-run but you're a better woman than I if that appeals... ;)

Ads - the cool thing about tri is that the fourth discipline is mental toughness and the 5th is nutrition. Combining all 5 makes it a thinking sport and anything can happen on any given day... plus, you can't beat the quality of people you meet along the way. Give it a go!!

Kathy said...

Of course, now you know that no one was making fun of you at the pool, including the coach. He may have had bad poolside manner, but doubt that he would have offered lessons if he didn't see your potential/commitment. But I have a soft spot for gruff coaches - they were some of my best teachers in high school. I was SO awkward and had zero self confidence and they were both gruff and kind. And none were of the creepy variety. Twenty five years later, one is my nephew's football coach.

ga said...

Oh, I thought it was hereditary that I hated water.

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