He’d throw newcomers in the pool, and I’d happened to be the unwitting first that day. Jack Pobochenko, the swim instructor at our local athletic facility, wasted no time. I bobbed to the surface; he swept me up and to the side with one burly arm and looked to the deck where my younger brother and sister quaked. Surprise only works once. The two of them scampered away, into the locker room, seeking the safety of our mother. But I began my love affair with the water on that day despite a tempestuous beginning. I did rise to the surface after all, and that has formed the basis of our relationship.
Like all relationships, we’ve ebbed and flowed. My constancy was complete through elementary school. Almost every day found me swimming, and before truly effective goggles, my post-pool evenings filled with rings around every light bulb, red-eyed misty attention on homework at the dining room table. I competed on the swim team, but I was slow. Stamina I had, speed not so much. In high school after one more 6 a.m. practice where I fell way behind my fish-like peers, I voiced my intention to quit. “No, Trish, don’t quit. You’re the only one I can beat.” Funny, right?!
I am not a quitter though, so I switched my focus to springboard diving and soon learned that water can be unforgiving, its surface unyielding when confronted head on. Throwing somersaults with that half added to wow the judges caused me brutal face and back slaps, repeatedly. I’d watch the swimmers, their near-naked bodies sliding through water gracefully, while we divers donned sweatshirts in hopes of some protection, and second-guessed my defection.
I returned to the back of the pack in college, and comfortable in my almost-mascot role, I swam through paper-writing, mid-terms, and finals. Water comforted me, and competition existed less as motivation, more as an afterthought. I just wanted to keep water in my life.
As Oliver Sacks writes in his essay, “Water Babies Why I love to Swim”: “There is an essential rightness about swimming…the wonder of buoyancy…One can move in water, play with it…explore its dynamics…its flow.” He says that his father called it “‘the elixir of life.'” There’s magic in this medium. Once I was asked to babysit my niece’s six-month old daughter while she and her husband attended a wedding. She promised me they’d return early. Baby Stella was nursing; no bottle would do. About two hours in, she began to wail, unceasing, bereft. Desperate, I took her into the bathroom, ran water in the sink, and sat her on its edge, firmly held. She splashed and chortled, waving chubby arms and legs with abandon. This is where her mom found us.
The amazing aquatic and recreation facility, newly-built nearby, and open for lap swimming almost all day contributed to the decision to remain in this seaside town, the pull of the waves a part of it to be sure. Just yesterday I completed my mile, the water and me in perfect harmony. Granted, there are mornings when we’re out of sorts, when our rhythms jar. We’ve formed a bond though, and its worth preserving, ’til death do us part.