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Swimming

November 7, 2009

I know it’s a little strange to be talking about swimming in November, but I just got back from a conference in New Orleans, where my hotel had an outside pool. I didn’t see anyone else out there, and I wonder if it was too cool for the locals. But it was quite balmy for me (outside temp was in the low 70’s), so I decided to take advantage of it Wednesday afternoon. My added incentive was knowing that I ate too much at lunch at the Palace Café (seafood gumbo, crusty bread and pecan-crusted with Creole meunière sauce, spiced pecans, popcorn rice, and a medley of broccoli, carrots, and red onions); I plan to address the topic of food and travel in a couple of days.

At any rate, it was the first time I’d gone swimming where I was surrounded by skyscrapers, but what actually made it memorable was realizing how much I enjoyed it. Such enjoyment doesn’t feel like it should be surprising, since I practically lived in the water some summers when I was growing up. Between swimming lessons, combining swimming with canoe trips, and going to swim at the nearby Thomas Pond, it was something I loved and took for granted.

Which is why it was one of the greatest casualties of my weight gain. As I wrote in the first part of my book:
"But perhaps my biggest loss was swimming. I still enjoyed being in the water, possibly even more than when I was younger. In that pleasant, almost weightless space, I could more easily ignore my mass, and I was still capable of handstands and somersaults and other acrobatics. Everything else about the experience, though, was not fun in and some ways torturous.

"Take bathing suits, for instance. They're meant to reveal the wonders of the female form, curvy and sleek and taut - which is fine if you're in a beauty pageant but a bit disheartening for us mere mortals. And for those overweight, it's frankly humiliating. I hated displaying my body, knowing that it was stretched out and bulged in unattractive places. This meant that I didn't want to go to public beaches anymore, and that I was hesitant of going to Thomas Pond. If I went, I walked fully clothed, bathing suit discretely hidden, only the towel over my shoulder giving away the fact that I was even contemplating going in the water. Once there, I checked carefully for my brother’s friend or anyone in his family, making sure I could slip into the pond unobserved.

"Getting out was another difficulty. I not only had to be certain I was alone, I had to deal with gravity. For someone who's never been heavy, this may seem like an odd statement. But the reality is that after floating peacefully in the water, letting that wonderful liquid buoy my weight, it was horrible to face taking up the burden again for myself. It was as if I had set down a heavy pack for a brief wondrous time of freedom, only to have to take it up again, with no choice in the matter. At my heaviest, I sometimes literally staggered coming out before I could readjust to the pull of my body.

"I didn’t feel able to wear a bathing suit in public again until six or seven years ago. Even now, I’m not completely comfortable in one because my body will never be picture-perfect. But that discomfort no longer keeps me out of the water. The irony is that I don’t have many opportunities to swim anymore, since I no longer live next door to ponds or lakes. This past summer was a particular disappointment, what with all the rain and cold; I only got in the water once."

That’s why I was so excited to have access to the pool at the hotel, swimming for half an hour in solitary delight, able to appreciate it without worrying about what other people thought when they saw me. It was a reminder that I should try to get out whenever possible in the summers, because it is something I enjoy. I’m just glad I can remember that now.

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