January 08, 2008

A Swimming Personality

I love watching people swim. You really can learn a lot about people by watching their stroke. It's kind of like a lie detector test - in only 25 yards you can discern their true nature and extrapolate everything about their lives.

OK, maybe it's nothing like a lie detector test. But, like fingerprints and earlobes, everybody's swim technique reveals, in it's own little way, insights into their unique personality.

OK, maybe earlobes and fingerprints don't say anything about a person's personality. But at least they're unique. Like swim strokes. Now stop being such a fuddy duddy and let me get on with my point.

There's this one guy who swims at my pool, let's call him Mr Methodical. As you can probably tell from his name, this fella is a fairly orderly swimmer. Every stroke is, slowly and deliberately, exactly like the last. It is as if he's perfectly calculated the precise position of his arm through every moment. With diligence and focus, he slowly ensures perfection in every position. The angle in which his hand re-enters the water is so precise, you'd think he was swimming with a protractor.

In watching him, you can only assume that Mr Methodical is a by-the-book type of guy. Probably a numbers person - accountant, bookkeeper or something of the sort. I wouldn't be surprised if I learned that he lays his next day's clothes out before he goes to sleep at night. Scrubs his teeth the exact number of brusha-brushas every evening and drapes his t-shirts on hangers in the closet. He probably has his jeans dry cleaned. He's that guy.

Then there's Bench Press Boy. He's not actually a boy, more like 50 years old. Definitely a man. He's quite muscular this chap, very fit fellow. He always swims with goggles, snorkel and paddles. He's a short one, probably topping out at 5 foot 5ish, but very strong looking. One can only imagine that he'd probably be able to bench press me holding Catherine holding my refrigerator (if, hypothetically, I could even hold Catherine holding my refrigerator. I can't even hold my refrigerator.)

Bench Press Boy jumps in the pool with all his gear strapped to his hands and face, then swims frantically the 25 yards to the other end. After the 25 yards he is so wiped out, he has to remove the goggles and snorkel and take a 2 minute rest. Maybe even 3 minutes. He then replaces all the gear back on his face, hightails it back to the other end of the pool, removes the gear and rests for another 2-3 minutes. It's tiring just watching the poor fellow. This little charade continues for about 400 yards, at which point he's so damn tired I wonder if he'll be able to pull himself out of the shallow end. But then I see his face and that smile of satisfaction oozing from his eyes.

It's a great workout for him, even if it seems ridiculously inefficient to some others. Somebody who is so fit should be able to swim further than 25 yards. I sometimes want to slap him across the face and teach him that he doesn't have to push so hard. But, alas, I've realized that this is Bench Press Boy's personality. Like his swimming, it's short and hard.

He may not be the best at everything he does, but he tries his hardest. He's got focus and determination and it may not get him to the top of the leader board, but gosh-darnit, he's happy right there mid-board. I'm gonna bet all the money in my wallet (which, sorry for you, is only four dollars) that Bench Press Boy is a great, loving husband and a strong, demanding but loving father. He may be a bit stubborn, but he's not afraid to tackle the tough problems the best that he can. And really, when it comes right down to it, what more can you ask from anybody?

But wait, look over to the right! There's Sir Aqua. We love Sir Aqua. I'm not yet sure if Sir Aqua is retarded (not that there's anything wrong with that) but from his swim technique you'd probably think so. I love watching Aqua in the pool because he's such a mystery. First of all, he always wears his aqua colored Speedo, the same exact color as the 60 year old tiles that line my grandmother's kitchen. Creeping from the sides of Sir Aqua's Speedo is, as always, his jock strap. Never a pleasant sight in the early morning hours, but funny nonetheless. After all, who really wears a jock strap anymore? Helloooo, can somebody please answer the phone? It's the 1970s and they want their jockstrap back.

To accompany the fashionable Speedo, Sir Aqua wears a similarly swanky aqua colored swim cap. They must've had a close-out sale in the aqua aisle down there at the Target store.

Sir Aqua never spends much time in the water, usually only 5 to 10 minutes. I saw him in there the other day. He was holding a kick board out in front of him. Hands firmly grasped on either side, arms fully extended, the kick board was gliding on the top of the water. But instead of being prone and kicking to propel himself, as most normal people do when using a kickboard in the pool, Mr Aqua was just walking through the water holding the kickboard in front of him. In essence, he was taking the kickboard for a walk. Imagine going for a bike ride, but never actually sitting on the bike - just walking it down the street. That's how Aqua was swimming.

He'd walk through the shallow water with the kickboard stretched in front of him and then, upon reaching the deep end, frog kick the 10 yards to the end of the pool. He'd turn around, frog kick the 10 yards back through the deep end, then walk the kickboard the rest of the way through the shallow water. Turn around, repeat. Retarded.

Understanding that he is not rehabilitating any injured appendage, it is hard to deduce a true personality from such a swim technique that doesn't, at the very least, involve a short bus and plastic utensils with no sharp edges.

As for me, I saw a video of my swim stroke last year. Fairly fluent, with arm angles near the correct position. I'm rarely consistent with my arm movements. It looks fine to the average passer-by, but dig a little deeper and you'll find flaws in the system. A protruding thumb. A mis-angled water entry. I try hard. I push hard. I challenge myself to go faster and farther and stronger and harder. I think I'm doing great. I think I'm special. Inevitably, though, I end up smack dab in the middle of the pack.

I suppose you can deduce all you want from that one.