Monday, May 13, 2013

splish splash

When I was 11, I spent a Saturday at the YMCA watching my cousin in her swim meet. I was mesmerized. I remember watching one person in particular, his dark brown skin against the turquoise water, and how his hands sliced through the surface - I thought that the way the body moves when it is swimming was the most beautiful thing.

The coach was kneeling next to the pool yelling encouragement. Everything was exciting. The flags were waving at the ends of the pool, there was constant splashing, yelling - I loved every bit of it.

That Monday, I went to my first swim team practice.

I had taught myself how to swim when I was little - I don't remember not knowing how to swim. And I had some swim lessons at the high school nearby. But I remember at this first practice, I couldn't make it the full 25 yards across the pool. I also remember actually dancing across the parking lot on the way to my mom's car afterwards - I was spinning and twirling, so excited. I was hooked. I was in the beginner lane with 4 or 5 other kids. Everyone was nice - and I wanted to be in the fast lane more than I wanted anything.

I also heard how people complained about butterfly, so I decided that would be mine. I worked, and worked, and worked on that stroke. I was determined. It's still my favorite. There is nothing quite so wonderful as making all the parts of your body work together in such a specific way to propel yourself through, up, over, and back down, into water. The mechanics of the stroke are amazing. It takes skill and strength. When it's done right, you can tell. It's beautiful to watch. It's beautiful to swim. It is the embodiment of hard work paying off.

I stayed on that swim team for a few years. Some of my favorite moments include spending whole weekends with this group of people, eating snack shack food on towels in the sun, swimming in a pool so crowded that you get kicked in the forehead by the person in front of you, recognizing the folks you were swimming with underwater by their swim suits, driving to meets together - there's a particular summer that has a soundtrack. I can be anywhere, and when I hear anything off of Tragic Kingdom I am suddenly awash in the smell of chlorine. I loved being on relay teams, I kept track of my personal records. I woke up at 5am for practice, went to the beach for open-water swim, and then back to the pool for the night practice. I had two suits I rotated, and just lived in them. We had parties, went to the movies, worked out together. We had sleepovers at the Y, where we huddled in the locker room playing hide and seek, spaghetti dinners, beach parties.

My sisters and I (I'm the oldest) on swim team #2
I helped set up swim meets, timed swimmers, sold snacks. I think watching how they were set up is part of what got me interested in event planning. I made personal records - talked to my coach about visualization and he gave me a book to read about positive thinking and motivation. The next meet was the best I ever had. I moved up in my age group, I won things, I never felt so good.

 I joined another swim team after the one I was first on disbanded when the coach got a better job for another club. After a little while, what I was doing with the Shakespeare theater group I was a part of started being more important, and I weaned from one to the other.

I still swim. I still think swimming done well is the most beautiful thing. I still crave water and love the smell of chlorine above most other smells. I still talk to a lot of the people I swam with on that first swim team. I still think about things that my coach taught us.

I wanted to write about this in this blog originally as a response to "the socialization question" that homeschoolers hear so frequently - but as I write, I'm realizing how much more there was to my swim team experience. Yes - I was on a team, with other people and had the chance to socialize. There were people I liked, and people I didn't like. If you want to focus on teamwork, just try being on a swim team - you spend 12+ hour days together at meets and swim maybe 4 minutes of it. You get up early. You spend time wet and cold. You deal with triumphs and failures. As a team you win things and lose, too. Individually - I think it's the first time in my life I could really start articulating intrinsic satisfaction. Why I would keep doing something that was so hard, over and over again. Although I didn't know the name for it, I experienced flow (another blog post),and other things so important to my well being. It all comes back around - my BA is in Recreation and Leisure Studies, where I focused more on event planning, leisure philosophy, flow, intrinsic and motivation --

So. To address the question I first thought I'd be answering - yes. I made friends. This is one example of how eveeeen a homeschooler can socialize. There are a lot of activities outside of school. Being on a swim team - sharing a similar interest, goals, and the bonding that happens when you're "in the trenches" together - I think it's a much more valuable experience than 40 folks all crammed into one room based only on age and geographic location. Being on a swim team is only one of a lot of examples just from my childhood that I can think of to address how we got our socializing on. More to come.

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