Circle swimming

Three of us were standing on the pool deck, waiting to maneuver into one of the three lanes opened to lap swimmers. The lifeguard in charge came over and asked if we were willing to circle swim. The young woman in line ahead of me seemed agitated. “How are we supposed to circle swim with them?” she asked pointedly, referring to the designated “circle swim” lane in which an older woman and an older man were lazily doing makeshift laps. They weren’t walking but they weren’t exactly swimming 100 yard repeats either. “Oh, I can get any lane to circle,” the lifeguard said. And so he went over to Lane No. 2 and asked the two lap swimmers to circle. One of the swimmers had a clear, unhappy facial reaction when asked to circle. I could practically see her roll her eyes under her goggles.

For the uninitiated in the world of circle swimming here is how it works: Everyone swims down the right side of the lane and then returns on the left side. You attempt to space yourselves out so you don’t bump into each other. But bump into each other you will. And so you pass swimmers who are slower and back off to let the faster swimmers pass you. I’m sure there are more specific etiquette rules, but really it’s not that complicated.

Circle swimming used to scare me. It still does a bit, but I’ve learned to do it with a smile and some perspective. If you’re training for something very elite, well then, you probably wouldn’t be doing laps at 9:47 a.m. in a suburban Western New York YMCA pool. Let’s be honest. While I want to improve my swimming and hit my target training times, coming to the Y pool is about more than just swim times. It’s about changing your perspective.

Those old folks we were semi-swimming in Lane 3? I got to circle with them. The guy got out shortly after I hopped in, but the woman and I kept the circle swim going for quite some time on our own. (General rule: Do not change the dynamics of the lane without telling everyone else in the lane. This causes collisions. I know. Been there.) I lapped her several times, but easily passed, even as I did my 75-yard timed sprints. I was cautions not to knock into her, but we both just kept doing our thing.

During one of my rest intervals, she said to me, “You do that very well.” She was referring to my swimming. “Well, I try,” I replied. I love the seniors at the Y who compliment my swimming which really isn’t all that great. (Best quote from my friend Hitch: You swim really well for someone with inefficient form.) And while I’d love to have a lane all to myself, I appreciate that they’re in the pool, doing the best they can. My workout is no more worthy than theirs. “I used to swim like that,” the woman in my lane told me. “Now I just do this.” She did some combination of freestyle and breaststroke without putting her face in the water. I smiled. She didn’t hamper my workout. In fact, she enhanced it. We’re all out there, doing the best we can. Another person’s time in the pool, whether slower or faster, affects me only if I let it. And if other other people are bothered by me, well, that’s their choice. I’ll just keep swimming.

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