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?