10/14/2004
 
I have my first enemy here.

Each day I plan to swim at the Freyburg pool to let off steam after writing in the morning. The swimming pool is five minutes walk away; a good sturdy size even if it is a bit yellow around the edges compared to the posh pool from my previous gym. There’s no moisturizing lotion or hairdryers in the changing rooms here, but as we say in New Zealand: it gets the job done. Yesterday, after putting my bag on the bleachers (a trust system, it seems, prohibits people from robbing you blind the moment you pop your head underwater as would happen in London) I headed for the fast lane. I mean, I’ve been swimming in the fast lane in one of the fastest cities for well over a year, I should be able to cream the local opposition. And I was right. No one was a match for me. I ducked, I weaved. My strokes were clean with hardly a splash. “Good work” I thought, after half an hour, hauling myself out of the pool to hit the showers, the chlorine already starting to make my legs and face itch.

Fast forward to today. I walk to the pool, pay my $3.50. It’s much quieter and I look forward to a long, leisurely swim. After changing into my togs (kiwi speak for a bathing costume) I drop into the pool. I don’t make a splash. Man, I’m good. I start swimming and feel the water glide around as if it’s trying to keep up. After a few lengths my brain will switch to standby and I’ll stop thinking about the slight ache in my arms and my breathing will come robotically. A sense of calm will pervade...

“Excuse me, can you move to one of the other lanes. The Squaddies are training here now.”

The Squaddies. Thirty swimmers had materialized from nowhere. Without a word they line up into three rows to monopolize half the pool. There’s diving and swimming. Fast swimming. It’s all I can do to scramble into an adjacent lane without being maimed by one of their sharp curved hands. The Squad Team can do every stroke. They butterfly with ease, and as far as I can see they don’t need to take a break at the far end of the pool and discretely hyperventilate for a good three minutes after every length while adjusting their goggles. Sometimes it looks as if they’re doing two strokes simultaneously. How? Well, lets just say that there’s no pansy vegetarian diets for these athletes. Lean New Zealand lamb and beef is all they eat – preferably served raw. I don’t know what our stance over here is on genetic engineering either, but my hunch is that we’ve invested in some type of porpoise stem cell research. Three lanes were a blur with Squaddies. I on the other hand was relegated to the “medium” lane to have unfortunate views of people breast stroking. All. That. Wide. Kicking.

I make my mind up then and there to lengthen my swim time by half an hour each day to get to the next stage, closer to the glory of swimming supremacy that lies at the very foundation of being a Squaddie. One day I would be like them – perhaps not today – but one day. I would push myself to the absolute limit, practice every stroke, kick harder, turn faster. Either that or I could just come earlier while they’re still at school...
 

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