“Do you think this is crazy?” I ask my husband.
“Why? Do you think it’s crazy?” he asks in return.
I throw a pillow at him and resume my morning ritual: getting dressed in the dark.
Swimsuit first, then sweatpants and fleece. The early mornings are challenging.
I’m a member of a Masters swim team—that is, one for adults only. Three times a week, we’re up at the crack of dawn, swimming at least two miles before most people get out of bed.
The practices vary: Some days aren’t too bad, while others consist of long sets of intervals. The hardest part for me is always the beginning, that first plunge into the cold water. It takes six laps or so before I settle into a rhythmic pace. I’m always so cold. My husband kids me about being a reptile—I could spend all my time on a hot rock in continuous sunshine—so why do I torture myself this way?
It may be the sense of accomplishment. On the tough days, I project ahead: I will be happier when I have completed my swim. On days when I don’t go to practice—which is very rare—I am cranky and sorry to have missed the workout.
Or it may be the camaraderie. There are about twenty-five of us (men and women) ranging in age from early twenties to mid-seventies. We’re like a family, spending time together in and out of the water three to five times a week. Most of us swim for fitness, though a fearless few are triathletes and open-water swimmers, and still others simply enjoy the social aspect. Working out with a group is fun. We talk and laugh, sometimes too much, and offer advice about everything from home repairs to meddling in-laws.
And a lot of us compete. At our meets, the relays are the most fun—we cheer each other on and act a bit like children, with team catchphrases and pep talks.
To non-swimmers, this can seem absurd—a bunch of grown-ups meeting once a month to race each other? Why? After all, nobody’s vying for a contract with Speedo or a spot on a Division 1 college team. Our faces will never adorn cereal boxes. The Olympics are totally out of the question.
But the Olympics aren’t the only sporting event worth attending. Masters swimming has its own schedule of international meets and its own record books, and athletes—previous Olympians and otherwise—take the competition seriously and break records each year. A few of my teammates have been to National and World Championships and say it’s a sight to behold. Watching anyone over forty sprint effortlessly through the water in mere seconds is astounding.
And even for those of us not traveling the world, athletic competition is good. We’re always racing the clock and savoring small rivalries. But we’re adults, and we’re gracious in victory and defeat. We cheer for the 95-year old woman swimming a 200-yard butterfly and we applaud the newest team member competing in his first race.
We’re in this together, continuing to move our limbs as the water resists our every stroke. And as we weather life’s personal and professional challenges, my teammates and I gather in the pool, leaving the outside world behind and focusing on the task at hand. And our hearts and minds thank us.
Kristina Tatusko Henry is a writer who’s contributed to Washingtonian Magazine, The Washington Post, and Maryland Life, in addition to penning four children’s picture books. She lives in Easton, Maryland with her husband Mike.