Monday, July 28, 2008

A New Pool: better living through bulldozing

There are no words more beautiful in a swim-coach family than these: a new pool.

Imbued with the sweet scent of hope that only a UV air-purification system can deliver and able to erase the memory of unidentifiable rashes like a diatomaceous-earth filter, a new pool is a harbinger of better things to come in any swim-coach family.

The swim-coach family will say to themselves, "This is going to be the year that Daddy finally kicks the Singulair habit." Or maybe they’ll say, "This is the year that the guys from the local OSHA office stop calling and asking if there’s anything they can do to help." Or perhaps, "This is the year that the microbiology class stops leaving petri dishes out to collect mold samples from the pool air." Bottom line, a new pool is cause for much rejoicing.

And now my family stands metaphorically perched on the metaphorical starting block of a literal new pool. Way back when Mr. Coach was hired, the university’s game plan had been to build a new pool in 3 to 5 years. Then economic reality hit and, like a seven-year-old in the 25-yard butterfly, the plans for a new pool have plummeted, surfaced and plummeted many times.

But this past year, somebody taught that seven-year-old how to get his hips into it and he finally touched the wall with both hands and the umpteen million dollars needed to get that pool built. My reaction when my husband told me (for the umpteenth time) that the new pool would get built? "I’ll believe it when I see it," I said. (I’m a little bitter about the Singulair bills.)

But earlier this summer, I began to see it. The architect’s plans were unveiled and a name for the new facility was announced. Trees were slaughtered and earth has been getting bulldozed around the new natatorium’s site, destroying the delicate micro-ecosystems where furry groundhogs have shuffled and snuffled for centuries and migrating songbirds have stopped to refresh themselves on thistle seeds and honeysuckle nectar. Soon, the lives of a half-dozen innocent tennis courts will be snuffed out.

And I couldn’t be happier. In fact, I’m thinking of throwing a party to celebrate this senseless carnage of nature and non-revenue-generating sports.

And while Mr. Coach works diligently to explain to the powers-that-be why starting blocks and lane lines are must-haves on his start-up costs list, I have been assembling my own list of must-haves: cushioned, ergonomically-correct seats in the stands (with cupholders), a timing-system control console that you don’t need an engineering degree to understand (for when the work-study students don’t show up and I have to help operate the timing system), refrigerated drink dispensers in the coach’s office, and a wood-fired pizza oven would be nice, too.

I would further request that the new facility get the rights to play a different version of the national anthem before meets, the version that I know Mr. Coach really wants to play: the Jimi Hendrix guitar solo – but it needs to be the studio version, not the live one from Woodstock. No one can accuse Mrs. Coach of being insensitive.

Monday, July 21, 2008

My World: and you're welcome to it!

The first time I ever went to a swim meet was on my honeymoon. In Fort Lauderdale. As part of the annual Swim Coaches’ Forum, which has been held since like 1857 at the International Swimming Hall of Fame pool complex. And, oh yeah, I was staying in a hotel with about 30 college students and their coach, my new husband.

As I look back now on my decision to elope on Christmas Eve and spend the first couple weeks of married life with a bunch of chlorine-impaired, hormonally-charged, voraciously-hungry social degenerates whose idea of welcoming the New Year was to toss the coach’s new wife into an unheated outdoor hotel pool at midnight, I’m pretty sure there’s only one explanation for my decision – the lifetime supply of sex.

With Mr. Coach, for heaven’s sake, not the degenerates. Jeez.

Actually, anyone who knows me didn’t find my decision all that surprising because I’m a little on the pragmatic and frugal side (which is not a bad way to be as a coach’s spouse). Elopement was an appealing option because I don’t like ceremonies and I especially don’t like being the center of attention in ceremonies which have become little more than commercially-sanctioned excuses to soak lovesick saps for obscene amounts of money which could be better spent on things like food and shelter. (Your mileage may vary.)

And a trip to Florida in the middle of winter also was appealing. Though it would not technically fulfill all the standards for a honeymoon (24/7 privacy, to name one), it satisfied enough of them and I also liked the idea of immersing myself completely in this new world of swimming. It was the moral equivalent of jumping into the water without sticking your toe in first.

Amazingly, I have absolutely no regrets about beginning married life this way. Though I wasn’t a swimmer myself then, I had been a runner all my life, so the athletic life as lived on an academic calendar was not unknown to me. In fact, the idea of returning to a lifestyle built around the cyclical flow of training, tapering, racing and resting was comforting. And even though I was, at that point, seven years removed from my own days of college running, my instincts still told me that a year begins in September.

I also thought, coming from an individual-type sport, that the similarities between the track and swimming cultures would be comfortingly familiar – though I did have some vague recollection that the swimmers I had known at my college were, how shall one put it, a little less tightly wound than my track teammates.

I had no idea how different the two cultures were, but getting thrown into a pool (an unheated outdoor pool) at midnight on New Year’s Eve, seven days into married life, was probably a good glimpse into just how different those two cultures really are.

I now suspect it’s the pounding from running, the gravity effect if you will, that makes runners both more grounded and more uptight. For example, if a runner gets drunk, it’s because he or she decided that the 1.14 beers it would take to get drunk will fit into his or her training schedule at precisely 9:36 p.m. on a Saturday night, eight weeks out from the NCAA championships. If a swimmer gets drunk, it’s because it’s Thursday.

Now granted, I have since learned that many swimmers can be just as anal as runners and some of them don’t even drink beer, but most of them still take chances with their personal safety, no matter where on the ranking charts their times appear, and they do so in a manner which says, "It’s not a death wish. It’s a complete absence of any sense of mortality."

Which, let’s face it, would have to be the case if you toss your coach’s new wife into an unheated outdoor pool on New Year’s Eve.