Two or three times a week, I switch into trunks, throw duffel over one shoulder, and drive to the Christiansburg Aquatic Center for an hour in the lap pool. The facility bears all the markers of an overlapping space, a latticed blend, parts Christiansburg point of municipal pride and parts Virginia Tech swim and dive venue, signposted with various logos, insignia, counts of olympians, and clock-kept swim records. Lap reservations sort of require Signup Genius sign-ups; I say “sort of” because they also admit walk-ins, and on weekends, especially Sundays when the pool lanes are toggled from widths to lengths, the walk-ins can outnumber the reservation-makers. Smelt run. Scheduling sinks to a point of more swimmers than lanes, turns out. It’s only happened to me once: make a reservation but there are no splashways to splish, even two to a lane, and the best I could get was a “not my problem” shrug from the lifeguard and a “we’ll make note of it” from the front desk. Better luck next time. But like I said, that happened only once.
I am not much of a swimmer in that stylistically my priorities are to stay afloat and move around. I have a cap and goggles, so maybe once costumed I look like I should be able to do more than tadpole awkwardly. These shoulders are uncooperative for overhead strokes. I can do it. Two surgeries in 1995 wag their finger, and there will be rotator cuff paybacks for days. Pain. By this I mean pain. Nighttime numbness. Searing hot immobility of the type that leaves me flustered and wondering how to get things down from high shelves, like breakfast oats, or pants-on and socks-on myself…get dressed. Instead, once in the water, I crawl, letting form and pattern crossovern chimera-like between frog-style and dog-style with the unaesthetic low standard of Rule One and Only One: an airway must be finding air. A markerboard near the door reports the water temp as a few tenths of a degree warmer than 80F, and then I carry out the starfish question, “How slowly can I swim?” This translates to calm, measured crawl, a focus on the breath and on patterned movement, a gravity-modified moving meditation.
Considering the past 18 months have included what at times have been excruciating, plans-changing lower lumbar back pain, the cool movement and reduced gravity have made stretching and strengthening again seem possible. The worst of the wincing intensities have, for the most part, subsided, and although there are pain body reminders and close calls, swimming has helped. Sometime in July we splurged on the gear for aquajogging simply for a change of pace, and the assorted webgloves and foam flotilla lend variety to an hour of crawled laps. I have found a routine I quite like, down and backs with high knees crossing over, slalom or barrel-stepping, simple jogging, unicycle patterns, Detroit Hustle, and so on. Gentler is the wayfinding that gives up on speed.
Without concluding too grandly–no cartwheels from the high dive, I note the practice because it has become a buoyant ritual, grounding not in the terroir underfoot sense but instead because it resets something like biotemporal anchorage, inducing a kind of be here now interval that quiets the senses (not quite to the point of lights out silenced sensory deprivation), buffering for a few breath cycles the weight of the world, laminar clearings amidst turbulence.