After such a bad week running, last week’s triumphant Wednesday swim session renewed my faith in the learning process. The elusive Unicorn that is Improvement has been glimpsed; I can allow myself to believe in its existence.
Later that same morning, as I stood at the treadmill all smiles and excitement and bragging to Shane about my new-found swimming prowess, one of the resident swimming coaches at the centre extended a kind invitation to give me a few pointers the next time I jumped in the pool. I would simply have to show up a few minutes earlier than usual in order to catch him as he finished teaching his class, and he would watch me and give me advice before he left.
I hesitated for a second, knowing that I don’t behave well when someone is telling me what to do. But all my casual conversations with this guy (Kirk) had been short, mildly funny and enjoyable. He seemed like he might be a straight-talking, get-it-done-and-go kind of guy. The style of teaching I could possibly handle. Plus, having just finished his class and being on his way to the gym, he really would just want to get it done and go. I nervously accepted – my first swimming lesson since I was 9 years old.
So on Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after my first and only pool domination, I was back to swim hopefully another 19 or even 20 lengths. I waved excitedly to Kirk, who was striding alongside the far swimming lanes calling out instructions to child-shaped fish. Hopping into an empty lane, I barely had time to spit in my goggles, slip them over my cap, put in my ear plugs, take them out again, put them in again, pinch on my nose clip, scramble desperately to grab it as it pinged off, and put it on again, before Kirk had wandered over. You know you’re infected with Triathlon when getting dressed for your workout is a workout in itself.
‘Let’s see it then’ Kirk said.
‘What, you just want me to go for it?’
‘Yeah, let’s just see how you go’
‘Can I use Felicity the Float?’
Short, not sweet, but acceptable at this early hour before breakfast and coffee. I double-checked all my paraphernalia, took a couple of deep breaths. Ducking my head under, I attempted my very best impression of a swimming person.
At about the 40 metre mark I thought I felt water going up my nose (through my nose clip?) and gave Kirk a much better impression, this time of the electrocuted starfish I have come to know so well. My alter ego, you might say. Kirk was un-phased.
He reeled off a small list of things I was doing wrong. Small, because I think he purposefully left quite a few things off the list so as not to make me cry.
‘First and foremost,’ he said, ‘you’re looking forward, not down’. He reached his arms into the air and did his own impression, of how it would look if somebody walked around in the manner in which I was swimming.
I am a turtle.
‘Second,’ he said, ‘your elbows are dragging across the water, which is going to make it hard work. Lift your arms out more, turn your body with your stroke.
‘Third, your legs are low in the water, creating drag. This is probably because your head is pointing in the wrong direction, but also your kick is all over the place. Go back and get your float to use until you get your head right, then we might need to do some work on your kicking further down the track.’
I repeated everything Kirk had said back to him in my own words, trying to envisage the changes he was recommending and give the appearance of taking this all very seriously. Not because I wasn’t taking it seriously; I was. But I was also painfully aware that electrocuted starfish generally don’t look like dedicated students so I had to make a bit of extra effort to relax my electrocuted face and demonstrate that I was paying attention.
‘Alright, practice that’ he said, and left. Yes, swimming lesson survived.
I spent the next 45 minutes with Felicity, doing a terrible job at implementing the straightforward instructions I had been given. Having my head further into the water means that I have to turn more to breathe, which is obviously going to help with keeping my elbows high, but also means I swallow a lot more water and as a result of this I was electrocuted considerably more regularly than the day before.
Somehow, I turned Kirk’s simple directions into an elaborate underwater ballroom dance incorporating elements of a tactical manouevre, a bit like the movie Mr and Mrs Smith except in a swimming pool and far less glamorous. Looking up at the end of a length there was no thunderous applause, just a row of judges sitting behind their table, holding up great big cards with 0 on them, and The Commando standing next to them simply shaking his head.
I didn’t complete very many lengths, so luckily I didn’t have to endure their condemnation too much.
Just as I was about to jump out and leave, my friend Jen who works at the gym arrived to set up the aqua-aerobics class in the little pool. She stopped to chat to me and I told her about my new-found failures. She sympathised, and then asked what on earth I’d done to my arm. I looked down to where she pointed, and discovered to my horror a stranger’s over-sized plaster had suctioned itself to my elbow. Gross. Public pools are THE WORST!!