Swimming Laps with Helen Mirren and Santa.

Helen Mirren tugs her white Lycra swim cap over her sleek silver bob, then pops on her pink swim goggles. She smooths her swim skirt and eases herself into the water.

Santa is already here. Santa is always swimming laps before I arrive and he is always still going strong after I leave. Santa’s belly is not akin to a bowl full of jelly, but he is white-bearded and has a kindly smile. He puts me in mind of a right jolly old elf. Santa favors the breast stroke at a slow but steady pace.

I’m pretty sure Alanis Morissette was at the pool two nights ago too, in an ill-fitting one piece that she’d obviously given up hand washing and run through the spin cycle on high a few too many times. Alanis, of course, gives no fucks about the swim cap, letting her trademark long brown mane trail wildly behind her in the water. You look at her and think, “That is so Alanis.

These are the people who swim laps after the people who really swim laps are done for the day.

For the past week, I have been one of their number.

I like to arrive just as the pool staff is taking in the lane markers after the official adult swim time is over. One lane stays reserved for lap swimmers and that’s where you’ll find Santa. Helen Mirren likes to split the lane with him. They have a system.

I don’t know how to use the lanes. I swim next to the marked lane, though I occasionally have to dodge guests from the resort that shares the pool.

I’m new to pool etiquette. I’m new to belonging to any kind of athletic facility. I’m new to lap swimming. Last night was my fourth trip.

It’s the perfect pool for me. The “laps” are some random length unrelated to any regulation pool. But they are my laps, damn it, and if I want to say I swam six laps – or three, or ten – then I will. My daughter lets me count a lap each time I touch a wall, so when she swims with me I get to double the number.

When she’s not with me, I watch the clock. A half hour, that’s my goal.

I am winded at the end of each length and I have to take breaks. I hang on the edge of the pool as Santa keeps his metronomic pace. Helen Mirren takes breaks too, but mostly to change up her equipment. She likes to use props, which makes me feel more comfortable with my fledgling attempts. Sometimes she’ll breast stroke with a pool noodle tucked under her elbows or clutch a kickboard in lieu of a full on crawl.

Maybe I am supposed to be doing that. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.

I swim, each stroke a moving meditation. You can’t not focus on your breath because of the whole drowning thing. So I follow my breath. Sometimes it is gasping, sometimes my timing is off and I swallow water, sometimes one breath barely gives me the energy I need to make it to the next.

I breathe and stroke, breathe and stroke, avoiding the kids jumping in the shallow end, wondering if I’ll ever have the guts to split a lane like Helen Mirren and Santa do. When my half hour runs out, I lie prone on the cement pool deck, unable to move.

No one seems to notice, so maybe the post-swim collapse is a common occurrence amongst the people who swim laps after the people who really swim laps go home.

I stagger to the locker room. I am so tired it is probably dangerous for me to drive the two miles home.

But I am swimming towards 50, and I think I am going to make it.

ckr swim



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19 Responses to Swimming Laps with Helen Mirren and Santa.

  1. Sarah Buchanan says:

    You go, girl! You are awesome.

  2. I would love to swim too but also completely do not understand pool etiquette. Other than no splashing and no running, I’m just not clear about the whole thing. And with Santa, that adds a whole new dimension. Would it be rude to ask for something for Christmas, I mean, like if you get on a name basis with him? If you hold the door for him or give up your lane, would he just think you’re trying to get on the nice list? So many questions…

    • The Reedster says:

      I think Santa just *knows* things, so we don’t have to say anything at all. Santa was off tonight, but I’m pretty sure Rebel Wilson was there. She was awesome.

  3. Carol Davidson says:

    |Just keep lapping Cindy!! You’ll get to be as good and steady as Santa. Just think, you have 14 lbs / sq inch of pressure all over your body when you are in the pool and it is giving you a constant massage…. A most healing medium (if you don’t drown).

  4. cris says:

    You inspire me.

  5. Just came back from the pool and a little lane-sharing myself. Since it was 110 in Tucson today, swimming was the ticket to not collapsing from the heat.

  6. Holly says:

    Geez, it’s good to have you back, head above the water (the occasional swamped breath notwithstanding).

  7. TriGirl says:

    I so know that exact feeling!! The first 2 years I ‘swam’ it was all about not drowning and figuring out how in the heck those people in the non-grandma lanes could swim to one end, touch the wall, turn and swim back, repeat–without stopping!! Who were those people??
    I’m 5 years in now and am constantly looking for ways to get better. But at least now I can swim without gasping for air each time I touch the wall. Keep at it! It gets easier!
    Also if you’re interested i basic lane etiquette:
    1. you can split the lane with one other person and you each stay on your side. If a 3rd person joins then you have to all swim in a circle in the same direction; e.g. always stay to the right of the line.
    2. Try to join a lane with someone who is more or less swimming your speed.
    3. Faster people will swim around you. You get used to it 🙂

  8. Rosanna says:

    I’m pretty confident you’ll swim through the rest of your life…if not in reality, at least figuratively:-)

  9. Good job getting out there and swimming laps! I feel your pain (Kind of!) I just learned to swim at 34 years old and I practice as much as I can but it’s weird being in your mid thirties and having all these little kids who are better swimmers than you!

  10. I loved this! Swimming scares the crap out of me. Partially because: drowning. But also all the things you mentioned, like lane etiquette. And swimsuits. Maybe roller derby is your speed?? 🙂

  11. Jan Wilberg says:

    You describe your pool mates so well. For a while I swam laps next to a woman who wore a black tank suit and a string of pearls. She swam the breast stroke and with each stroke would dive about two feet under water, emerging with her pearls like a swan who’d gone fishing. It was mesmerizing. I agree that exercise is key and you’ve nudged me to get back in the pool.

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  13. you kick ass and keep kicking ass!! congrats on voty once again!! you’re such an old hat at this winning stuff. go you. 🙂

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