Monday, November 3, 2014

Memoir #4: Shallow Water Blackout

Shallow Water Blackout

      Psycho Coach pushed us beyond oxygen to the outer reaches of carbon dioxide. He had designed his own swim suit. It looked like a futuristic get up seen on Star Trek, with a zipper in the back. I imagine that moon and star space, the nebula, is much like a swimming pool...quiet, no air, lots of room to think. 

     We were a community college team. There were three campuses and the pool submerged at the central campus. I drove a 70' Ford Falcon about a half an hour to get there, bee bopping to music of 83', that being Duran Duran, David Bowie, and The Fixx. Because of the distance, two a day practices were too difficult. So the coach compressed; he squeezed; he wrung out every drop of water he could from us little sponges. As a sprint coach, he didn't subscribe to middle or long distance training. To him that would have been a waste of time.

     Aqua Girl—that was me, a comic book character—built for the water, duck feet, long fluid muscles—svelte from losing eight pounds in two weeks. Tired, man was I tired. As a student, I trudged to classes, my quads feeling like the cement stairs. IM is short for Individual Medley, a collection of all four strokes and a race that isn't at all short . After high school, I tried my sea legs in the 400 IM and pushed technique in butterfly, backstroke, breast and front crawl drills. All that lonely pool time—it gets to you. My head was all swimmy.

     “Susie, Mike, Mary, and Steve,” he barked. “Take the blocks.”

     People don’t believe that swimmers sweat in a cold pool. This juxtaposing the icy terror we felt against a 65 degree breeze as we waited for the coach's direction. 

     I hopped up there and shook my arms like noodles. The wind blew like a mockery. Wrapping my toes over the tilted edge of the starting block I waggled my legs back and forth to loosen up, adjusting my goggles over the skin head swim cap. 
     We never knew what was coming. It was the big psych-out, in order that when we build endurance and be competitive. We were ready for any race.

 “Alright 75’s!” Coach bellowed. That’s three lengths of the pool, each length being 25 yards.


 Oh great.

     Butterfly is the hardest thing there is. Picture a butterfly spreading its wings underwater. That’s about what it’s like. When done well, it’s beautiful, like ballet. A good swimmer makes it look easy.

“Breath control.”

That’s all he said. We got it. Swim, but don’t breathe.

“The first length, you take two breaths.”
“The second, one breath.”
“The third length, no breaths.”

Zip, zilch, zero breaths.

     This was after some fantastic sprint drill. I can’t remember what it was. but I was winded and spent already. We’d probably done 20 fifties (that’s swimming up and back) on a minute for each.
     He had it in for us, but we’d brought it on ourselves. Friday night was party time for swimmers and this was a Saturday morning practice. Boone's Farm is never a good idea. 

     He was a perfect swim coach for college freshmen. He taught psychology of all things.  

     Leaning over, grabbing the edge, my toes were shriveled, the nail beds purple, water dripped two feet to the surface, creating small circles.  

     We had to do a set of five, and if we took an additional breath, he added another 75.

     I had trouble. With each leg, I tired, breathing more than was allowed. So I swam another 75. I think I’d added three extra.
      Determined to finish this next one, there seemed to be no choice.
     That last length is indelibly stamped on my makeup—of who I have become.

     I remember the morning was overcast, like a habitual mood. Reaching in with a two hand touch at the wall, I pulled my head up and gulped two lungs full, pushing off hard, for momentum. Half way across, my abdomen waved in and out as it fed on carbon dioxide; every ounce of air absorbed by gasping cells.
     At the last third, I saw the bottom black line, the 'T' at the end. I thought, “I’m either going to make it, or pass out, right here in the pool.”

     “But I’m not taking a breath.”

     I reached the wall at the time of  'fade to black'.

     Standing, I swallowed precious air.

     “Good effort!” My teammate Steve grinned at me.

     I got a standing ovation from the other few, the only accolade I got that year. Barely passing school, I was so average. C’s at BCC. Swimming took most of my focus. Heck, it took all of it.

     Shallow water blackout, is a real condition. I was close to drowning, in the pool, at school, in life. I look back now at that little pond. My think tank seemed ocean size. How would I keep my head above the surface? 

     Those drills were good training for the future wife and  mother. Still, I swim.

     Treading water.

     Guarding lives. 

     Holding my breath, often. 

     Swimming at my own risk.

     Yet never swimming alone.

      I am in the deep end now.





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