Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wet and Dry

As I have exhaustively documented, the life of a swim coach’s spouse is nothing if not exhausting. And one of the biggest challenges I face each year, right around this time, is learning to identify the newcomers. Usually they’re freshmen, but occasionally you get transfers or upperclassmen who have sufficiently recovered from the trauma of a bad high-school or club swimming experience to give the sport a try again.

But this isn’t a matter of just matching a name to a face and a set of details that Mr. Coach has heaved at me (which usually goes something like, “He’s the one from Kansas…5:06 but never trained right…6’3”, 130…and, best of all, he put ‘Monty Python’s Holy Grail’ down on the questionnaire as his favorite movie”; Mr. Coach takes great pride in his questionnaires. You can definitely tell a lot about someone from asking what their favorite color, workout, book and movie are. Or whether they even turned the questionnaire in. [Insert judgmental-raising-of-one-eyebrow emoticon here.])

But back to me. No, the hardest part with matching these names to faces is that I have to learn how to match these names to two types of faces – one wet and one dry. Most people look completely different when they’re dripping wet.

It’s not as hard with the guys. Thanks to the vagaries of male growth patterns, there’s enough variety in their builds to give me a running start on positive identification. The challenge is when your beanpole freshmen guys return from a summer of massive growth spurts and suddenly have pecs and facial hair. It’s like meeting a whole new person.

But generally it’s the girls who are hardest to sort out because they wear caps and sometimes I can go an entire season without seeing their hair until one day, Mr. Coach and I are walking in town and he’ll say hi to some bright-faced coed with an explosive halo of frizzy brown hair and, after she passes, he’ll be like, “That was Araminta. You know, the one whose mom brings soup to the home meets.” And I’ll be like, “Whaaaat?” because the Araminta I’ve met and even discussed soup stocks with does not have that much hair. And yet it is Araminta.

Sometimes Mr. Coach will bring in a batch of freshmen who, through no fault of his or theirs, all look alike. There was a stretch of about three years there which I refer to as “The Blonde Years” when every freshman girl had a round Caucasian face, shoulder-length blonde hair and no bangs. Some of them graduated without my ever addressing them by name because I wasn’t sure if I was talking to Blonde No. 3 or Blonde No. 14. I had to have stern words with Mr. Coach and motivate him to put a little more effort into the brunette and women-of-color department. Thankfully he has and I’m back on track. And now I’m back for another season of matching names to wet and dry faces. Wish me luck!


  1. I'm a swim parent and the swimcaps-on-girls thing makes it unbelievably difficult when I'm in charge of something like passing out ribbons after a meet. Especially sisters that are close in age, very confusing.

  2. Edward, you've got to try the hot new trend in age-group identification: They write the kids' names in Sharpie markers on the back of their right shoulders! Sometimes even their events so the officials can be sure they showed up for the right event!


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