The way that my schedule works, it’s the only day I have the opportunity to go swimming in middle of the day like a retired senior citizen. And that’s my company – a pool full of really old people.
I love old people. They’ve got it all figured out. They know exactly what swimming is supposed to be like – easy and effortless, with a priority on social interaction over competition. But that doesn’t mean they’re not strong swimmers.
One of the most amazing things to me is to watch them transition from a slow, awkward gait on land, to slipping into the water and immediately taking off – suddenly stronger and faster than me. Fishlike. They don’t breathe hard and always appear to be taking their time, even though they’re going twice my speed.
Sometimes the old guys will pause to smile and wave me ahead, as if I have a chance at staying in front. But they assume that because I’m younger I’m more impatient. And often I am. Yet their vibe is calm and relaxed, as if they have the rest of eternity to finish their laps. Nobody looks at the clock. Nobody times their breaks. So I’m learning to be more patient. And to appreciate everything my body can do.
In the change rooms, I’m the hero. The only one with quick fingers and a strong grip. Ideal for peeling and lifting and picking things up. Old wet skin is sticky and my help is often solicited in one form or another, usually to peel clothes off or pull them on. I am rewarded with a warm smile and if I’m lucky – a pat.
Few words are exchanged because of a language barrier – these are Asian immigrants. And although they’re old, they carry themselves with dignity and honour, as if their lives are just beginning and they still have one hundred more years to live. They smile at me kindly but knowingly – as if I know nothing and they know it all. Maybe they’re right.
Physically, it’s another world. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a naked old lady – but the first time was quite a shock to me. It looks slightly inhuman, and gravity is suddenly a horrible horrible thing. Important things get misplaced. Or disappear completely. But the most jarring is the sudden realization that I might actually look like that someday.
However, the more time I spend in these change rooms the more I realize – these ladies don’t care. In the evenings and early mornings younger women swimmers will cover up self-consciously as they change, or hide in corners. Often they’ll try to sneak a peek at other women’s bodies for mental comparisons. But the afternoon ladies stand completely naked the middle of the hall and yell at each other from across the room, laughing and chattering the entire time. Clothes are an after-thought. They don’t look at bodies, they look at faces. And they’ve taught me a lot.
I’ve learned to love my own skin and see more wonders than defects. To take my time and never rush. And to do my best to help others along the way. After all, you never know when someday I’ll be old and might need help peeling off my wetsuit during a triathlon transition.