Can You Forget How to Swim?

When I was a kid I learned how to ride a bike at the Greyhound track outside Orlando, FL. You probably think this says more about my childhood than I meant it to, but I didn’t actually particularly care about riding my bike — there was nowhere to go, we lived across from a large shopping center (which housed a TCBY!) — and the Greyhound track was really sort of more a coincidence, a parking lot to go in circles in, than anything. But, learning to ride a bike was a prerequisite to childhood and so I did.

I gave it up in 7th grade. My parents told me I had to either wear a helmet or not ride my bike, which is perfectly reasonable on their part and I think they figured it was simply an ultimatum to get me to put the helmet on, but I didn’t. I was not a cool kid, which I was fine with, but I was also very aware of. When we moved to the suburbs from Chicago in 7th grade, I (with my braces and city attitude and Coke-bottle-thick glasses and hair dyed every color except the ones people actually have) didn’t fit in a ton, but I did fit in enough, just enough. And, that was fine, but it was a line. I knew that. And, I couldn’t afford one more thing to push me over that line. Wearing a helmet, any helmet, wouldn’t have been cool for the suburban kids who love to court manufactured risk. Besides, the giant styrofoam block of helmet, itself, wasn’t cool. Maybe if I’d had a cool helmet, one of the ones we all have now, it’d have been ok. But, I didn’t and it was sweaty and left marks on my forehead and made me look even more nerdy than I really was. So, I weighed wearing the helmet with how much I cared about riding the bike — and I didn’t care about riding the bike — and told my parents, ‘OK, I won’t ride it then.’

And, I didn’t. For 8 or 9 years.

I can tell you then that it is true, you don’t forget how to ride a bike. Theoretically, you still understand the principles. But, you certainly forget how to actually put those principles into practice.

There are plenty of stories here to illustrate this point, most of which involve me trying to practice around People’s Park in Berkeley and crashing over and over while the homeless people watched me and wondered what the hell that girl was doing. For another time, perhaps.

Yesterday, I swam in the Belvedere Lagoon with some people from my Masters team, which I haven’t been to in about two months. The woman who invited me knew me and thinks I’m fast, so she waved me off, saying, “If you need to go ahead of us, Kelly, you can.”

I didn’t really think that was going to be a problem. And, then I got into the water and it REALLY wasn’t a problem. It turns out I may not have forgotten how to swim, but I certainly have forgotten how to swim. I flailed and swam all out to still lag 20m behind everyone else and I zig-zagged and my arms burned and my swimsuit cut my neck and I couldn’t see where people had gone. I became obsessed about halfway through with the fact that my hand entry sucks and wasn’t grasping the water efficiently, but by the end I didn’t even care. I was just picking my arms up and dropping them down and wondering how 45′ could feel this long.

When I finally got to the dock where two of the other swimmers were waiting, she asked me if I’d been swimming at all lately — because, well, clearly I hadn’t. And, I said no. And, she asked why I’d come today then. And, I said I was getting back into things, see. And, then, the other guy there said, in that tone of voice used to talk to small children and dogs, “GOOD for YOU.” And, I thought, oh honey, I may have forgotten how to swim, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t forgotten how to kick your ass.

When I was trying to remember how to bike (and also learn lots of things about biking I never knew in the first place), I went on a triathlon team ride and the girl in front of me stopped abruptly twice and I ran into the back of her. She was fine, I was fine, but she was bitchy and pissed off and rolled her eyes snidely at me. Clearly, she seemed to say, I’d never be any good at this. That, as much as anything, made me determined to get good at biking even if I hated it — and oh, I hated it.

So, guy, I will remember how to swim, even though I hate the water and its coldness and murkiness and the way it stays in your hair forever. Don’t worry. I’ll remember soon. And, then, we can go back to the lagoon.

4 thoughts on “Can You Forget How to Swim?

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