Monday, December 15, 2008

Ocean Miles

I have never partaken of an ocean-mile swim. As described in a previous blog (this one -- -- to be precise), I had to learn how to swim surrounded by jelly fish and horseshoe crabs, and that experience pretty much drained me of the desire to ever again do much open-water swimming.

Mr. Coach, who grew up in safe, sanitized and jelly-fish-free suburban pools, thinks that ocean miles are a hoot. In fact, every winter he convinces his college swimmers to try one in Ft. Lauderdale – just so he can kick their butts. Seriously. The guy’s edging closer to 50 with every breath and he still cleans up in the Ocean Mile derby. (Note to Mr. Coach’s freshmen: Just say no. All you end up doing is the fifty 50s workout in one of the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) pools as a substitute.)

But every year, those silly freshmen fall for the pitch. Want to swim ONLY a mile this morning AND not have to worry about your form? Swim the Ocean Mile. Want to see manta rays floating beneath you, like butterflies in a meadow of seashells and golden sand? Swim the Ocean Mile. Want to take on your aging coach and see who’s in better shape? Swim the Ocean Mile!

As for those pesky little worries about the Portugese man-of-war jelly fish, fuggedaboutit! You only have to worry about them if there’s a wind out of the southeast and then they cancel the swim (although you may want to ask Whitney about that).

But here’s the thing about Mr. Coach and open-water swims that any freshman might want to know: Yeah, he seems all mild-mannered gentlemanly and everything, but when he swims one of these things, he goes to his schizophrenic-psycho place and it’s not pretty. Once, after watching my husband slice his way through an open-water swim in a triathlon, I asked him how he did it and he replied, "Oh, all you do is grab ‘em by the ankle, pull ‘em under and swim over. You’re really doing them a favor." I stared at him and mumbled, "It’s like I don’t know even know you."

And yet every year, he convinces his student-athletes to join him in this folly. One year, I walked along the shoreline, watching them do it. The team had come down to Ft. Lauderdale too late that year for the official city-sponsored competition, so they staged their own. For God only knows what reason, some of the girls decided, after starting, to swim out to the international shipping lanes and then parallel the shore. Maybe they thought the water would be calmer out there. Anyway, a lifeguard who saw this completely flipped out and went all authority-figure on me, as I trudged along carrying everyone’s hotel-room keys and asthma inhalers.

"They shouldn’t be out that far!" he shrieked at me. "They need to get back in closer to shore!"

I looked at the guy, but didn’t break stride.

"Number one," I told him, "I don’t do rescue missions. That’s your job. And number two, I hate open-water swimming. That’s my issue from childhood. I own it, but that’s not going to change anything right now."

So we split the difference. The lifeguard trudged along with me and when the team made it out of the water, he yelled at Mr. Coach. Who was too far ahead of his student-athletes to realize that a handful of them had swum to the Azores and back.

"Well," Mr. Coach grinned and told the livid lifeguard, "I’ll bet they never do that again."

(Remember, freshmen: That’s the fifty 50s workout in one of the safe, sanitized and Mr.-Coach-free ISHOF pools.)

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