I was waiting for my regular lane buddy, Tim, to show up. My eyes went back and forth between the clock and the locker rooms. I didn’t see him anywhere. I frowned. I always have fun when I swim with Tim. If he’s not there or I don’t get to swim in the same lane as him – I don’t get to laugh anywhere near as hard! Besides that, since I’ve started swimming with him, I’ve actually begun to feel like I’m a part of the team.
I had a lot of trouble feeling like I fit in at the Masters class in White River Junction. I was so slow when I started that I didn’t feel like I belonged with the other swimmers. Since I didn’t belong with the other swimmers – regardless of my long distance open water achievements – I felt like I wasn’t a swimmer. And since the only sport I participated in was swimming, I didn’t feel like an athlete, either. I was, in my own mind, unclassifiable and that left me feeling like a specialized, pigeon-holed freak of nature.
It was so very difficult, and I felt so very bad at swimming, that I couldn’t go anymore. I found a way to do Masters workouts on my own and began to swim with some friends when I could make it to their classes. It was several months before another set of circumstances encouraged me to go back to White River. And I met my lane buddy, Tim.
I had braced myself ahead of time with the simple facts that I would be slow and incapable of keeping up with most of the workout for most of the time. But when we started to swim, there was something different. We laughed. We joked. We picked weird sendoffs to go on, testing our math as well as our might. He never left me behind, even though he was faster when he wore flippers. We always waited for each other. We still worked hard, completing the whole workout. But we did it together. A team achievement!
This past Thursday, I was pretty bummed when he didn’t show up. I was sure things would be the way they were before. I got into my lane, the lane of betwixt and between. It is located beside the lane next to the folks just learning to swim and, also, beside (and, yet, a million miles from) the speedy-mcspeedkins lanes. We are always on a sendoff somewhere between the other two and kind of in our own workout. (And before Tim, it was mostly just me in this lane… except for the occasional injured fast person.)
An older lady, probably my mother’s age, tentatively approached my lane.
“Are you fast?” She asked me.
“Um…” I just sort of shrugged, smiling at her. I was thinking of how many times I had asked that question. “Not really, I guess. Kinda medium?”
“Were you an age group swimmer?” She asked, apparently unconvinced by my unconvinced-ness.
“I don’t know what that is,” I said. “So I guess not…?”
“So you didn’t swim competitively as a kid?” She asked as she began to get into the lane, feeling I was safe.
“Oh,” I said. “Well I was on the swim team. But I was really, really slow then.”
“Oh, okay,” She said, clambering into my lane. She had a soft, sweet voice and gentle manner about her. She seemed very nice; perhaps a bit timid or shy or quiet. We chatted a little bit more and then we proceeded to warm up on our own.
When the group warmup was done, we looked the main workout over. This week, we were supposed to do 10 swims on 1:20. Do an easy 50 yards and then continue with 8 swims on 1:20. Do an easy 50 yards and then do 6 swims on 1:20. It was pace work in anticipation of a challenge to do somewhere around 75 swims on 1:20. It all seemed pretty easy to me. For those of you unfamiliar with the distances, the pool in White River is 25 yards per length. I figured that doing 75 yards (3 lengths) per 1:20 would be easy to achieve for me.
“I think I’m going to do 50s,” My new partner in crime said.
“I’m going to do 75s,” I said.
“Really?” She asked. “For the whole thing?”
“Yes,” I said. “I think that 1:20 should be plenty for that.”
“Oh,” she replied, thinking.
“You could start with me on the 75s and just see how it feels if you want,” I said.
“I will do that,” she replied.
The fast wave of swimmers left on a command that I didn’t hear. I watched them go, somewhat sadly. My lane buddy and I picked a sendoff a few seconds later and off we went.
We were pretty well in sync for the first several swims, both of us easily made our three crossings of the pool with enough rest to go again. I got lost in my own world, thinking about my stroke and my technique and chewing gum. Somewhere in the middle of the first 10, I began to realize that I was still easily making the sendoff and my lane buddy was not.
My eyes went from the clock to her approach as the seconds ticked down. She barely touched the wall as the sendoff arrived. I hesitated, barely, to see if she would take a break, but she immediately put her head down and pushed off the wall at the right time. I was a split second behind, but easily got ahead of her.
As I flipped for my third lap on this sendoff, I watched her approach the wall. I thought that, for certain, this time, she would stop at 50. There was no way she would make it back for the sendoff, if she did a 75.
Somewhere, halfway down my third lap, I threw my gaze behind me to see if she had paused at the wall. But no, there she was! Swimming up behind me. I smiled to myself. She didn’t want to quit. She didn’t want to give up. She wanted to do what I was doing.
Because I’m her lane buddy. And we’re a team.
I took my cue from Tim. I got to the wall and waited. When she swam up this time, I asked if she wanted a few extra seconds.
“Oh bless you,” she said. “I’ll just keep going ‘til I drop!”
I smiled. “I know how that goes!”
Twenty seconds and we were off, again. It seemed that was really all she needed. We finished the first set easily after that. We did our easy 50 yards at our own pace and re-gathered for our next set.
“Do you want to do 50s, now?” I asked. I wanted to be accommodating. I did. I knew I could still do 75s, but sometimes things are different when you’re swimming on a team.
“Oh no,” She said. “We’ll do 75s. If I have to do a 50, you just keep on going.”
So off we went. At first, she was just behind me. About halfway through, I noticed that she was falling farther behind again.
As she paused at the wall with only 3 seconds to spare, I shouted, “We can do this!”
She laughed out loud as we both dove into our next 75 together. We made the entire set… doing 75s the whole way! Without extra rest! Both of us! Together!
We congratulated each other and took our time with the easy 50. When we re-grouped we were both pretty well energized with our accomplishments and set for our last set.
Off we went. I was admiring my new friend’s gumption and stubbornness. I was thinking that we were well-suited for each other. It truly is a lot of fun to swim WITH somebody. No matter their speed or skill or achievements or where they compare to you. I think that things would have been so much easier in the beginning if I had had a lane buddy to swim with me. Somebody I didn’t burden. Somebody who saw us as a team. Somebody who would just let me chase after them. Somebody who would help me do what they were doing. All I had wanted was to do what everybody else was doing. I didn’t want to just come on the days when they were doing distance sets and ignore all the other strokes and only be good at what I was good at. I wanted to be a part of the team. I wanted to be a swimmer. I wanted help to know how to improve and be better at everything.
That was all I wanted; just to belong.
I was so lost in this train of thought, that I forgot where I was. I couldn’t remember if I had done two laps or three. And I couldn’t remember how many more there were left. I stopped at the wall and consulted with my lane buddy, who – coincidentally – was just making it back to the wall with only a couple of seconds to spare. We took another 20 seconds before going again, for which she again thanked me.
We got down to the last two swims of the workout, and I could hear her excitement when she called it out loud as we paused at the wall. I couldn’t help but smile ear to ear for the final six laps.
We finished the set laughing, a welcome high-five, and congratulations again.
“Hooray, Team!” I said.
“We did the whole thing! I didn’t think I could do 75s!” She exclaimed. “The last challenge we did, we did swims on 1:30 and I could do 75s for that, but I didn’t think it was enough rest to do 75s on 1:20!”
“Ladies,” the stand-in coach, a fast swimmer from the far lanes of Speedefersons, was calling to us. “How did you do?”
“We did it all,” I said. “We did 75s.”
“Nicely done!” she said. “That’s what we did.”
I think my lane buddy and I were both thrilled with that declaration. We did it! We all did it! Hooray, hooray, hooray! My lane buddy was still excitedly talking about her achievement as she climbed out of the pool onto the pool deck and joined everybody else.
75s! 1:20! I couldn’t help but smile deep into my soul as I pushed off from the wall, continuing in my workout… my lane buddy’s voice disappearing to the quiet laughter of the water. Maybe… maybe that’s the difference. Maybe it isn’t my speed that keeps me in the lane of betwixt and between. Maybe it’s the fact that I just don’t belong in those other lanes.
And maybe I don’t belong in those other lanes… because I just belong here.