If you’ve ever lived with a cat and a dog, then you know that one of them eventually starts thinking and acting like it’s the other type of animal. And if you’ve ever lived with a cat and a dog, then you know it’s the dog that almost always loses this identity battle. Fido will start trying to move lighter and slinkier than he really is. He may even curl up on the couch with Tinkerbell. And if he’s really gullible, Fido will try jumping up on table tops and window sills. Even if he’s a 100-pound golden retriever with arthritic hips.
Swimmers often remind me of dogs that have been living in the company of cats for too long. They think they can move quickly on land, even nimbly, and they therefore persist in trying to move quickly and nimbly. They try to vault over starting blocks. They try to skip up and down bleacher steps. They try to skitter away after yanking a teammate’s swimsuit off him. They try.
I’m not sure whether the mental disconnect comes from being around non-swimmers who can walk without tripping, or if it comes from thinking that because they move quickly and nimbly through the water, they can also do so on land. Either way, like watching a dog that thinks he’s a cat, it’s a little strange. Funny, but strange.
And dangerous. In all the years that I have now known swimmers, I have got to say there are very few things left I have not known a swimmer to fall off of or into. Starting blocks, bleacher steps, pool gutters and guard ladders are just the obvious things. Chairs, tables, bookshelves, shrubbery and urinals are the less obvious things. Not a season goes by without somebody on Mr. Coach’s team getting stitches and having a really stupid story to go with them. He even had a set of identical twins who managed to get matching forehead gashes, several days apart and for completely different reasons. Seriously. (I got a little excited when the first one got his gash because it gave me a way to tell them apart. You can imagine my disappointment when Mr. Coach came home and told me the other one had just gotten a gash in the exact same place.)
And taper is probably when the stupidest stitch stories happen. It’s like the workouts drop just one lousy thousand yards in distance, and the entire breaststroke lane decides there’s never been a better time to brush up on their skateboarding skills.
And it’s not like it gets much better, even after their competitive careers are over. Exhibit A: Mr. Coach. Who was a college swimmer. A sprinter in fact. He now does triathlons. Every decade, whether he needs to or not, he and his bike go mano-a-mano with a moving vehicle. And guess who loses? Well, the last time it was Mr. Coach’s left collarbone and his bike frame which both ended up with hairline fractures, so he got a sweet new set of wheels out of the legal settlement.
But that’s not my point. My point is that swimmers are not cats. And you know what? They’re not even really dogs either. If anything, they’re fish and you don’t see fish riding bikes on ice, taking skateboards down the front railing of the library, or falling out of their closets. You just don’t.