In 1964 the Phillies almost won the pennant. The Beatles
interrupted our love of doo-wop and oldies. And I lost a
monumental battle with my mother that turned out to be an epic
win for both. This doesn’t happen often when intransigent
factions go to battle.
This was also the first year that we didn’t summer over at Lake
Sunapee. To ease the transition and keep kids out of mom’s hair,
Dad acquired a membership to Brookside Swim Club. This was
essentially a country club without a golf course, tennis courts,
booze, food, and social hierarchy. It was a place where idle
children got into a bit of trouble and this was a growing problem.
My mother’s solution was enrollment for the swimming team.
There was no consultation.
There was a bitter standoff until dad was enlisted to her cause.
Battle over. At least he tried to apply reason. It didn’t help that
my brother Ken made fun of me. He called me a name that was
thrillingly inappropriate. At 16 he felt entitled to use language
The first day of practice was an awakening. Our coach was a
gentle soul who taught special ed. My Mom clearly had enlisted
him as a co-conspirator. His warm welcome was the tell. With
greetings out of the way, practice started. Within two minutes I
was puking in the locker room. Soon, a small legion of boys
joined me. Apparently, this was the norm for first day of
I was placed in my age group of 12-year-olds. Most of them wore
racing suits multiple sizes too large. I was wearing denim-like
baggies that reached my knees. They held about 15 pounds of
water-weight. It was not a group that looked like future
Practice actually went well. With my stomach empty, I
hammered out the laps. It seemed to get easier for me while my
12-year-old brethren lagged further behind. I was discovering a
small, unknown gift.
After practice everyone hung around. I was surprised by the
attention of older swimmers. Even the girls praised my effort.
This was a completely new experience. For the first time in my
athletic experience I had a sense of belonging.
I also discovered another 12-year-old who was a phenomenal
swimmer. He was so good that he trained with the 17 and under
group. His name was Jimmy. He was not just a great swimmer.
Jimmy’s brother was a Green Beret and drove a Plymouth
Barracuda. In our world this was highest status.
Jimmy and I would form the backend of a very interesting
medley relay team. The kids leading off with backstroke and
breaststroke were reluctant, sluggish participants. By the time
Jimmy launched the butterfly leg the team would be a length of
the pool behind. By the time I hit the water the advantage would
be cut in half. The mission was clear.
As a 12 year old, I wasn’t very self-aware. I didn’t see myself as a
small kid gifted with power, endurance, and a bundle of
fast-twitch neurons. I just saw the water, the lane markers, and
the kid 10 yards ahead of me. It was better to be the hunter than
Swim meets could feel endless. Apparently, this erratic relay
team created a few moments of improbable drama. Parents and
swimmers would all be standing by the time Jimmy hit the water.
You could hear them screaming as he closed in on the wall. And
then I quit hearing anything at all.
Our coach described my swimming style as a moving splash.
Others said I looked like a madman chopping wood. Call it what
you will, it was pretty fast for a 12 year old. More often than not,
I caught that kid ahead of me. For just a moment I was a star.
This was an unexpected and unique experience. I believe that my
mom enjoyed it even more than me.
Now, I only dream of swimming. But the dream is reocurring. I swim in a lake of gin-clear water. My stroke is long, loose, and languid. No more wood chopping. And no hurry. It’s not a race, just a dream.