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.


Maria of the Chicago Marias said...

Two thoughts:

1. As I'm sure that you are aware, many people these days use a variety of teeth-whitening procedures (stay with me, I will make a point here). I am partial to the trays. However, it's a bit awkward when I need to produce a good guffaw. Right now, for example, there's bits of tooth whitening gel across my computer screen. So, I was thinking maybe, a little disclaimer: Remove tooth stuff from this point forward.

2. I'm struggling with this--and I know you're expecting this--but I am a former special education teacher, and I winced over the use of retarded. There, I had to say it. It's not that I'm humorless--and god knows, my kids had an appreciation for humor and the absurd that puts us all to shame--but I know there are some special olympics swimmers-technically retarded, if you like-who swim so fast and so efficiently . . . silly swimming technique is more the province of the Austistic, anyway.

Thanks for humoring me!

j. said...

dear maria (of the famed Chicago marias, not to be confused with the Hoboken marias who, as everybody knows, are quite inferior and, frankly, smell),

1. thank YOU for humoring me. you got me with the whole teeth whitening thing.

2. for the record, my mother was a Special Education teacher for many years as I was growing up. in fact, some of my fondest memories are the summers when i would be her teachers assistant. the kids were wonderful and i still think about them. all that said, i frequently throw around the word "retarded" (most often in reference to me personally) and rarely is it meant from a derogatory perspective (except sometimes when in reference to me personally). there is a group of autistic folks that workout at my gym. they are better swimmers than this short bus fellow i speak of. really, you need to see him in the pool. it's fascinating.

IM Able said...

Now I'm wondering if I should bring Michael to the pool before he *technically* agrees to marry me. Perhaps there's something telling that he doesn't know about. A mis-timed flutter kick or low elbow. It may be more important than knowing that I sometimes forget to flush. Although that was a really telling moment.

TriGirl Kate O said...

I wish you could produce a short YouTube video of Mr. Aqua! And let's hear it for us middle-of-the-pack-ers.

Jason said...

Now I'm going to have to check out the swimming personalities of everyone at my pool. Very entertaining post.

Jenna said...

first time on your blog but i must say - your reference to Mr. Aqua ...had me laughing so hard i was snorting....Creeping from the sides of Sir Aqua's Speedo is, as always, his jock strap....WTF???

Thanks for sharing your observations :) Jenna

penney said...

So funny, J. It's like a new kind of horoscope. A very entertaining post.

Ironhead said...

Ah yes, the Swimmers Jock...

Because every man runs the risk of bagging himself repeatedly.

In a pool.

Whilst swimming.


One can only deduce that this poor guy made some comment one day, years and years ago, about the swim stroke of a fellow lane jockey, to which the response from the aforementioned lane jockey was a straight shot to the junk. I shall consider myself duly warned, and I'm off to the local sporting goods store to pick up my own Swimmers Jock.

kushal said...

Crap. Now I'm going to end up subconsciously start analyzing everyone I meet at the pool. There's the short, fat guy who can't stay on his side of the lane and speeds up every time he sees me coming. There's the 15-year-old in baggy board shorts trying to swim laps. And then, well, there's me with his own little canine cheering section:


I'm sure Freud would have a field day with that. =P

I don't have teeth whitening gel on my monitor, but loved the post.

TRI Vortex said...

If there was ever a reason to record my swim stroke I've found it. This ex-high school swimmer would like to you watch my video and give your insight to my personality...Seriously. You are like a palm-reader of swim strokes.

Speed Racer said...

I love Mr. Aqua! I want to take one home with me! I want to take him to the park to take his kickboard for a walk. Too funny!

j. said...

HILARIOUS, speed racer. i think we all want a little Mr. Aqua by our sides throughout the day to make us remember that everything will be alright.

Tallen said...

I fit the description of BPB pretty well except I'm less than half his age and I was 5th out of the water at Lake Placid 07. Of course, the rest of the race was all downhill from there ha ha ha.