I've spent nearly every morning the last month with a bunch of teenagers in their pajamas. Shocking you say? More awe-inspiring if you ask me.
You see, I've been trying to improve my swimming the last four weeks; showing up every morning to the Woodlands Athletic Center (known as "the WAC" to us locals) and standing in line, huddled against the morning chill, and waiting for the doors to open at 0530. All around me are teenagers, members of the three area high school swim teams. Inside, on the walls, are the momentos of championships they have won--district championships, state championships, and even national championships. Alongside those are the school records set by these kids and their predecessors. Those times are elite by any standard.
I see these kids up close every day for a few minutes before they become superheros in swimsuits. They stagger and shuffle up the steps to the WAC in their flannel pajama pants, their flip flops, their fuzzy slippers, girls with their hair all tied and piled high, boys with unruly bed heads. Look closer. You don't even have to see them swim to tell that these are not average, early-21st century teens.
Look around at the hoodies worn against the cold morning air. Written on the fronts and backs are things like "Long Course Championships" or "State Championships" or even "Olympic Traning Center." These are not ordinary kids.
Then look at the shape of the kids underneath the hoodies and pajama pants. An alarming percentage of American teens are overweight or obese, and statistics tell us that if one is obese at this age, it is almost certain you will be obese as an adult and will die or be disabled before your time. These swimmer kids may eat pizza and burgers like many of their classmates, but 0% of these kids are obese. Every inch of them bespeaks power and every movement is that of an athlete.
Then look even closer. Look at their behavior and you might see what I (as the father of a daughter) see. Sure, there is a certain amount of the normal teenage tomfoolery or flirtation. But there's something else going on. These swimmer girls aren't crawling into their shells or taking any crap off the boys like many of their classmates do. You can tell by their actions that these girls are not governing their every action and thought by worrying about what the boys will think. It may seem obvious, but they did not fix their hair before coming to swim practice and they do not appear to be concerned that a boy will see them in a swimsuit. Beyond the obvious, the very way they act communicates that they are confident with their power, their strength, and their shape. In this they are very unlike many of their peers.
And the boys, they too are different. I'm sure it is not lost on them that these creatures in the pajamas are girls. After all, the boys are not dead and they are teenage boys. But maybe they know these are not young women to be trifled with. At least their actions say that they know. They talk with each other across gender lines, sometimes about things that actually matter. They treat each other as team mates. There is a certain amount of common dignity between the genders that often doesn't exist in other places in the adolescent life or even afterwards.
Oh, but then watch them swim and you will be astounded. They swim like they were born to it, and indeed most of them have been doing this together since they were in first grade. They live and move and breathe in the water with an ease I cannot even imagine. And what's more, they do it every day, in the dark and in the cold. Through talent, but even more through dedication and practice, they have developed a level of excellence at this that probably exceeds the level of quality or effort that I have achieved at anything in my over-achieving life.
I will say it frankly. I admire them, these kids in the pajamas. I am in awe. Sometimes I wish I could tell them that, but I know that no one wants creepy old ironman guy walking up to one in one's pajamas and waxing poetic about something one does as a matter of routine. But if I can't tell them they are to be admired, I hope they hear it somewhere, especially from their parents. So, I just silently admired them nearly every morning this past month.
This Friday, it was particularly cold, about 35 degrees farenheit, and one of the younger swimmer-girls was hoping that the coach might let them swim inside with "the old people." She said something along the lines of how slow some of them are, but she "gives them their props" for showing up and working out.
She may or may not have been talking about me specifically. There are swimmers far older and far slower than me. But there is a strong possibility that, Ironman finisher's gear or not, I was just patronized by a 15-year-old girl.
Nice. Love that.