Zen in Cold Water

Three mornings a week, my alarm clock screams at me, and I am bullied from my sleep at 4:50 AM. After hitting snooze once, twice, I fumble through the familiar darkness to the bathroom where my bathing suit waits for me to shimmy it on. I creep down the squeaky stairs, try to avoid tripping over the dog, collect my keys and swim bag and groggily drive myself to Towson University. I deftly sleep-drive my way into the parking lot and find a spot for my car. I slide out onto the cool asphalt and nod at my fellow swimmers as we shuffle our way up the stairs and into the aquatic center. The bright lights inside the women’s locker room of Burdick Hall shock me a little more awake, as I ready myself for yet another grueling hour of swim team practice. Flip-flops, fins, goggles, swim cap, Gatorade – I juggle my supplies and join my teammates at the edge of the pool.

At 5:20 a.m. I slide myself into the chilly water and start the 1,000-yard warm up. The first 200 yards are manic, fueled by stress, anger and anxiety. I grumble and growl, complain to no one, push off the wall too hard and glide, annoyed at the cold water, tightness of my goggles, creeping up of my cheap practice suit.  After my little underwater bitch session, I find my rhythm and settle in to complete the last 800 yards of the warm up.

“Hold it!” our coach shouts, signaling the end of the warm up. My teammates and I stop at the wall, sip sports drinks, and exchange good mornings. The chatter gives way to silence as Coach Matt walks to the dry-erase board to translate the 2,000-yard workout. The swimmers, sometimes up to 35 of us, gripe and complain good-naturedly, select the pace for the workout, and move into position. We stare at the time clock. Matt’s voice booms, “In five…Go!” The silent pool explodes in a crescendo of splashes as one swimmer after another gracefully tuck under the water, push off the wall and surface, arms pulling and legs kicking as they test themselves against the relentless time clock.

In my lane, lane three, I am the last swimmer of four; the anchor, a spot I covet. The swimmer ahead of me varies – sometimes Bill shows up, but he travels often for work. Sometimes Mary joins us, but she has been spending more time at the gym with her daughter. Frequently, I am last of three, behind Shauna, a furiously strong swimmer who keeps speed in reserve for the end of the workout. I struggle to stay in her bubbly wake. Leading the group is Dave, a 65-year old powerhouse. Dave competes in triathlons and wins. Not just in his age group – the whole thing. He competes internationally, sometimes twice in a year. I am in awe of his athleticism and humility. His swim caps speak for him – Australia, Beijing, Germany. He leads the lane and sets a pace that pushes the rest of us way beyond what we thought we could accomplish. I breathlessly thank him at the end of every practice.

It is during these 2,000-yard workouts that I exhaust my inner critic. I settle him down with rhythmic chanting, a necessity for me to hold my pace, keep up with my lane mates, and relax in my body. Sometimes the chanting gives way to thinking and planning. I practice lessons in my head, make to do lists, or yell at those who have annoyed me.  That’s when I know I have found Zen…when I can maintain pace during a hard workout while designing discussions questions for my 10:10 English class.  I climb from the pool physically spent, emotionally awakened, my body chilled from the cool air. As I pad to the locker rooms, I note the griping and complaining around me. I grin, grateful that I pulled myself out of bed, pushed myself hard, and remembered to set the timer of the coffeepot at home.

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1 Comment

  1. Jason Flennoy

     /  September 1, 2011

    WOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 That is exactly how I feel when I swim!!!!!!!!! 🙂 I too settle into a meditative zone and find myself conversating with the UNSEEN-ALL and solving all of the issues coming from within!!! 🙂

    See, that’s why we are one!!! 🙂



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