On Humility

>> Friday, December 17, 2010

As I wrote this morning about my slow return to running after injury, I've achieved some respectable PRs in my years of racing. I wouldn't consider myself a fast runner, but I'm definitely a fast-er middle-packer. I take pride in my speed. It's something I've worked hard for as an entirely self-made athlete.

Honestly, sometimes that pride morphs into smugness at the gym. Just sometimes, though. Because I've been a beginner, I've been injured, I've been burned out . . . and I know distance and speed are all relative. It's personal success, personal best, personal EVERYTHING that really counts.

Now, when I draft posts, I tend to try on a cute tone with my writing. I try to be funny. Interesting. I write stories and sometimes use hyperbole to get my point across. All writers do it. It's just more entertaining that way (for you AND for me). But this story, folks, employs no exaggeration. What I write now is real. It happened to me this morning.

And it left such an impression on me, that I just had to write about it. ASAP-style.

I had nearly finished my fifth lap in the pool -- my first 250 yards of the morning. My heart pounded hard in my chest. About 176 beats per minute, to be precise. My arms felt tired and tight. I even briefly considered getting out because I already plan to run later in the day. Swimming is serious business. It's difficult. It's exhausting. It's completely draining for me.

Anyway, I looked around. There were some other people in the pool: A woman my age (who may have been a fish, I couldn't tell because she looked more like a blur than a person at her pace), a few elderly ladies I remember from aqua jogging, a creepy guy standing in the shallow end.

The regular Friday morning crowd, really.

So, I finished that fifth lap. Then, I stopped to drink some water and stretch. An old man approached my lane with his walker. "May I join you?" he asked (all the other lanes were occupied). "Of course," I breathlessly replied, "so long as you're OK with my slow-poke speed -- ha, ha."

(I have this awful nervous laughing habit. But I really meant what I said to him. I swim at what I would describe as a 15 minute mile in running would be. Well, maybe not QUITE that slow, but you get the point.)

"Oh, that's fine," he said, splashing into the shallow end. (He was also half laughing because I could tell he thought I was kidding.) He slapped on his blue swim cap, glanced at the wall clock, and took off his glasses. I finished another sip of water, took a deep breath, and . . . we were off.

At first, I figured he'd probably swim close to my pace. Maybe slower. I mean. A.) He's old and B.) He had a walker. Right? Right. Well, very shortly into that next 25 yards, I felt a distinct pull. That movement of water at my feet that all swimmers recognize as another person nearby. Approaching. Passing.

Sure enough: This sweet old man was PASSING me. ALREADY.

And it wasn't some fluke early-in-the-workout sprint for him. This gentleman proceeded to pass me over and over and over (and OVER) again as I made my way another 20 or so laps. I'm thinking he swam a mile -- and quicker than I can ever imagine finishing one myself.

As my watch's timer approached 45 minutes, I saw the man climb the ladder and exit the pool. Yeah. I was still going -- I swam a total of 2,000 yards this morning (right around 1.15 miles in, uh, 53 minutes). But . . . I looked up at him to wish him a good day.

All I saw was this H-U-G-E grin on his face. This intent look of satisfaction. Of victory.

My swim trunks-clad butt had just been OWNED by a man in his 80s. I think I know I made his freaking day. Week. Month! And I'm happy to do it. He's a rock star in the water despite how I could crush him on land.

So, does this humbling experience make me think I have no business as a member of the Friday swimming crowd? Hell no. Does it make me respect new challenges? People of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and ages? Most definitely!

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