Sunday, January 16, 2011


by Madeleine Kando

When I first joined my health club, I thought: 'Oh, now I can meet lots of people, why else would it be called a 'club'?' But I soon learned that health clubs are not places to socialize. They are half-way points to an imaginary heaven called 'being in shape'. They are like purgatory.

The women that I see at my club are all very serious about their 'health'. Their relationship is not so much with each other as with the machines. Humans are creatures of habit and, just like I have my favorite locker, my favorite shower cell and my favorite spot in the hot tub, they too, must have their favorite spot on the treadmills, the bikes or the ellipticals..

When I go to the club I don't use the machines because I am a coward. I don't like steel and I don't like mechanical motions. So the only connection I have with the fitness room is when I walk by it on my way to the swimming pool.

Of all the activites at the club, swimming is probably the least social because having a conversation with a co-swimmer is pretty hard when you are trying to keep water from going up your nose.

When you swim, it is not only your body that is immersed in a liquid medium. Your mind also begins to float. Swimming is monotonous and you soon enter a state of trance. Up and down, up and down the swimming pool, counting your laps, listening to your own labored breathing, trying to improve your stroke..

It's just you and the water. No-one else. After four or five laps, as you gather momentum, you think you are real hot stuff, frees-tyling like the pro's. Until this Michael Phelps look-alike suddenly zooms by and makes you feel like a turtle again. But that's ok. It brings you back to reality.

I can handle the speed freaks, I have resigned myself to my own mediocrity in that regard. But it's the other kind of swimmers that I have a problem with. So, when I first enter the pool area, I have gotten into the habit of scanning the lanes to see if there are any 'splashers', 'flappers', 'kickers' or 'sinkers'.

Sharing a lane with a 'splasher' is probably the worst. It's idiotic because you are already wet from head to toe, but every time you pass the splasher in your lane, you are subjected to an unwelcome and unnecessary shower.

The 'flappers' are one grade up from the 'splashers' but they are more lethal. Their shoulder joints are so tight that they flap their arms out to the side instead of overhead, and you risk being slapped in the face every time you pass them.

The 'kickers' are the ones that like to swim the breast stroke. They kick their legs out side-ways, like arthritic frogs. Since the lanes at my club are quite narrow, a single kick can send you home with a nasty bruise, sometimes on a very private body part, which won't disappear for a week.

The 'sinkers' are not really threatening to do you bodily harm, but they sure are unsightly. They swim with their lower body sunk to the bottom of the pool, as if they had big heavy bowling balls attached to their ankles.

I have become an expert at spotting the best candidates for lane-sharing. I look for a petite female with short arms, short legs and small feet. Arms that cannot slap me in the face, legs that won't kick me in the groin and feet that won't have enough foot-surface to splash.

When I look at the variety of body types and styles of swimming, there is one thing I have come to understand over the years. People are not made to be in the water. It is rare to see someone swim with grace, speed and strength. Most of us, poor humans, should really stay on land and not pretend to be at ease anywhere else.

We are not built to swim, just like ducks aren't built to walk and worms aren't built to dance the salsa. That does not prevent me from being addicted to the water. In fact, my secret wish is to come back as a dolfin or a killer whale in a future life. But knowing my luck I will probably come back as a clam, unable to move from my spot in the blue vastness that will surround me. At the mercy of other creatures, being splashed, slapped and kicked…. Aahh!
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