First Swim Meet

March 30, 2012
By , Waxhaw, NC
Sunday, mid-morning, finds me in a high school auditorium, listening to worships songs and preaching. I’ve stuck my name tag on my thigh: it seems to declare “this leg belongs to …” Not that I particularly want to claim this leg. It (and its twin) looks presentable in dark jeans, but my legs are not beautiful—not like the hundreds of legs I saw kicking at the swim meet the day before. Those were smooth and glistening, the skin tight against muscles.

Swim meets consist of many strong athletes and an equal number of victory-hungry parents. In between races, high-school students with men's bodies stretch out on towels or curl against the wall in a hallway adjoining the natatorium. They listen to music to psych themselves up, and still others fitfully nap. In the long stretches between warm-ups and races, I read, not willing to spend 9 hours of my Saturday on the swim meet alone. Occasionally I stand by the side and watch bodies race. That’s all they seem to be: splashing bodies, masked with a cap and reflective goggles, covered with far too little fabric. Some thrash and gasp; others propel with raw power through the water.

When it is my turn to race, I wiggle out of my team sweatpants and sweatshirt, remaining in only a skimpy swimsuit. I try not to imagine what people watching might think about my legs as I walk toward the diving block. My own opinion consists of grudging acceptance and flickering confidence, so I walk with my shoulders back and head up to at least give the impression that I want to own my body. I seal my goggles to my face and confine my hair in a cap. At the beep, I dive, in what feels like a graceful arc. My body undulates underneath the surface, and when I break the water, I kick, pull, and breathe, through bubbles and silky water. My arms, legs, and lungs, join in a kinetic harmony. For a minute—for 100 yards—the lane is mine, and I remember why I signed up for this.

By the end of the sprint, my lungs are burning. I don’t win, but I would be content to stay in the water forever if they let me.

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