By Vicki Polon
Who would believe a $15.99 piece of plastic could change your life?
At 73, I was already taking statins when my cardiologist, the exuberant and very wise Dr. Klein, said I needed more cardio in my life. Do you work out, he asked? “Well, I swim every day in summer when my husband and I are at our little lakeside cabin.” He nodded and said, “Good. Swimming is good, and the best cardio-boosting stroke is the crawl. You probably know that.”
I hate the crawl. Facedown in the water, my eyes burn, I usually swallow mouthfuls of water, hair covers my face and I can’t see anything. Worse, compared with a nice easy sidestroke or breaststroke, the crawl is exhausting.
For me, swimming is transportation to the wooden float in the middle of our lake. From my shoreline, the float is just 1,142 feet away. It could just as well be in the next zip code, but every day at four o’clock, it’s where I meet my BFF, whose cabin is on the other side of the lake. I’m happy just to get there and back.
But I made a deal with Dr. Klein. I would crawl my way to cardio oomph. The thought of just one swallow of fish-poop-filled water filled me with dread, but I bargained with myself, “Just do it. The mind will win and the body will follow.”
I waded into the lake, thinking every stroke, swallow and splash would bring me closer to a healthy heart. Not even halfway to the float, my resolve was dissolving and my mind was spinning. “What’s the point of this torment? I have excellent genes. My father lived to 93, my mother to 95, and unless golf counts, they never exercised a day in their lives.” Halfway there, I switched to the old familiar sidestroke. The crawl was too much like work—sweat free or not.
When I finally climbed onto the float, another lake friend was basking alongside my BFF. She is a serious swimmer and I often watched her effortlessly swimming the crawl all around the lake.
I whined about my current predicament. My swimmy friend listened and said, “Here. Try my goggles. It might make a difference.” “Really?” I asked. “Try it,” she repeated.
I swam around in her goggles for a few minutes. Without water or hair in my eyes, I became aware of my breathing and the arm-windmill thingy. I wasn’t struggling! What was happening? When I climbed back onto the float, she said my stroke was completely different than sans goggles. Maybe this goggle thing would free my inner Esther Williams.
I swam home doing my fastest ever side stroke and told my husband what had happened. Because the boundary of his life is no more than 18 inches from his computer, those same goggles were Amazon-ing their way to me by the time I finished the story.
It wasn’t long before I was doing the crawl to the float and back. Soon enough, I was swimming across the lake, turning my head to inhale, exhaling noisy bubbles face down in the water in a steady rhythmic, meditative pace. Swimming was no longer transportation: it was transporting.
I swam in big lazy half-mile circles in the morning and at night. I swam in the cold, the rain, and into the middle of October, when we closed up the cabin and returned to our city life. I’ve been thinking about swimming all winter and can’t wait to get back in the water and crawl some more. My goggles hang on a hook in our cabin, ready when I am.