On My Changing Relationship to the Goddamn Pool

If you know me in real life, or pay incredibly close attention to this website, you might know that when I was young, I swam competitively. I was never particularly good (I have never been particularly good at any physical endeavor) but I did it — a lot.

There were years when my summers consisted of three hours of swimming in the morning followed by another hour and a half at night. In between, all I did was sleep and eat.

The clearest memories I have of those days are of how cold the water was in the morning, how crazy our coach was, and how much we ate.

I remember steam coming off the water in the morning and all of us, rail thin, terrified to jump in. I remember Coach Oz who’d lost half a finger in a machining accident screaming at me so much his dentures would come loose.

And I remember the food. When my mother handled the car pooling duties on Friday, we’d stop at this Italian bakery. Four swimmer would split a dozen cannoli’s. At nine in the morning. Then I’d go home and eat a box of pancakes. Yes, a box. Or we’d head out to an all you can eat buffet, where we’d eat, straight through breakfast and into lunch, laughing and joking, and putting away plate after plate of food.

Those are my strongest memories. What I don’t really remember was enjoying the actual swimming. Usually, it seemed like a grind.

And that’s because it is. Unlike running, where you can chat, listen to music or watch the scenery go by, or team sports where comradery is part of the goal, swimming is an individual endeavor where you spend most of your time with your head in the water, looking at a black line at the bottom of a pool, trying to remember what lap you’re on. As I’ve written about before, it can get dull.

And yet there I was, last night, in the basement of my synagogue, getting in some yards.

Was it boring? Yes. Tedious? Yes. But also kind of wonderful to click off the laps without the benefit of a podcast, or audible download, or Spotify play list. A teenage me, would never have appreciated this, but last night, having 45 minutes to think about my son, my training, and John Joseph’s strange road from the Cromags to Ironmans, without any interruptions, felt like a luxury.

Do work! #ironmanboulder #asphaltgreennyc #pma —ocean swim Thursday

A post shared by John Joseph (@johnjosephcromag) on

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About seanv2

Scholar, gentleman, jock. I run the website Milo and the Calf. There you will find the Boston Qualifier Questionnaire where runners share their stories of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. You'll also find my thoughts on endurance sports, ancient history, Judaism, and hundreds of book reviews.
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2 Responses to On My Changing Relationship to the Goddamn Pool

  1. smt says:

    Glad that you are starting to enjoy swimming and all, but really…I loved your food memories! 1. Swimming makes me so hungry that I kind of refuse to do it, because it definitely results in a net caloric gain, and 2. idk, it just made me think of all of the bizarre food rituals that went along with sports for me growing up, from half-time orange slices and Gatorade (which was super exotic for me), to “carb loading” dinners before lacrosse games in college (ha, very necessary, esp for me playing goalie) to having to bring a gallon size insulated water thermos thing with ice in it to insufferably sweaty August two a day soccer practices. Fun post!

    • seanv2 says:

      Orange slices! I heard them referenced in a pro sports podcast the other day to infer that someone was a kid, which rung true.

      You might also enjoy this anecdote: I used to ride my bike the pm practice and on the way my teammate and I would often get nachos and slurpies at the 7-11 and then down them, pool side, right before jumping in.

      Ahh youth.

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