Sunday, November 18, 2007

Awe

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.

20 comments:

Wendy said...

Great post!

Hope your swim sessions brought the improvement you were looking for.

Fe-lady said...

Thanks! I needed to read this...and while I KNOW there are great kids out there (a group of them just finished the 109 Tour de Tucson bike ride yesterday), sometimes I don't see enough of them and need to be reminded!

Bigun said...

That was when you streatched, yawned loudly and flashed your M-dot in her direction. That'll teach her....

1HappyAthlete said...

Great post

momo said...

this is good, greyhound. when they get older, those teenagers will come to masters and kick all of our hineys all over the pool all over again. and we will watch them then too and wish, wish with everything we have, that our parents had gotten us into swimming when we were small so that we could swim as effortlessly as they make it look.

but as effortless as they make it seem, there were years and years of 5 am days in cold and dark to make it happen. you are right, they deserve our admiration. and just a bit of jealousy when they go flying by. :-)

21stCenturyMom said...

I share the locker room with the girls on the local US team and I concur with all you have said. They show up at 5:30, lift weights and then swim 1000 or so yards in about 20 minutes. They have to get to school.

And I just deleted most of my comment because it is good posting fodder. Thanks for the inspiration!

No Wetsuit Girl said...

I think waking up to be somewhere at 5:30 am will make someone heartier and less frivolous at any age. It kind of makes me sad that I wasn't dedicated to ANYTHING until I was about 20 years old, much less starting in 1st grade.

Take it easy on "admiring teenage girls' bodies when they're wearing next to nothing," creepy old ironman guy, I think that's illegal, even in Texas.

the Dread Pirate Rackham said...

man. what did their parents do right that got their little teen-aged sparks? that's what I want to know.

how much would I like to feed a spark like that in my little people?!

TJ said...

very cool. maybe one of them will decide to do a triathlon someday and go to that old ironman guy for advice...

TriBoomer said...

During my oldest daughter's last high school swim banquet her swim coach said, "Parents, look around you. Swimmers are GOOD KIDS."

So true.

Stay tuned...

Nytro said...

i whole-heartedly agree with you about the teenage girls not putting up with crap from anyone. everyone talks about how great sport and athletics are for kids... but to me, this is what it's all about. giving the girls (and boys, of course) confidence and teaching them respect for themselves and for others by being apart of a team. sports at a young age made me what i am today. this is why i'm so passionate about things like Title IX and why i loved coaching so much. it's good that you have a young girl and can see it for what it is. a lot of people who don't have a daughter tend to overlook such things.

way to put it into words. that should be published. seriously.

Coach Tammy said...

So does being an athlete create self-confidence and self-acceptance, or is there an element of self-selection involved? The chicken, or the egg? Hmmm.

Tri-Dummy said...

Hold on. I'm one of those old people.

Thanks for the props, brat.

Nice. I like it, too.

Jane said...

This is very nicely written.
Gives you a little hope for the future.

Brent Buckner said...

Nice thoughts!

CoachLiz said...

Thanks for giving me credit for getting up at 4:45 every school day morning as a high schooler to do car pool and be ready to hop in the water at 5:30 am. We gave each other a lot of ribbing on those early mornings and it taught us to stick up for our selves and each other. Swim team makes up some of my fondest memories of school.

It wasn't easy and I never expected it to be. I was in training for what was to be a 20 year journey to becoming an Ironman.

supalinds said...

Awesome post! I love it.

IronJenny said...

I was one of those kids!
I will never regret or forget the years of early morning workouts before school. We rode our bikes there in the dark.
It did build confidence in me. To this day I don't take crap from anybody, I actually like myself, and am not afraid of much. And there are a lot of people who hate me for those things.
And that's OK, too.
I hope you don't mind me printing your post and giving it to my girlfriend who has two of "those girls" you wrote about.
Great post, Greyhound. I bet they also secretly say, "so - that guy in lane 3 has an Ironman tattoo. I would LOVE to do that someday. That would be amazing".

MisheleK said...

I'm sure that nice young lady meant "old people" swimming inside, in their 70s, looking like they might croak with every stroke. I used to open the indoor pool in the summer, and the super senior citizens loved getting in there as soon as I opened up the place. Which may have been wise on their parts considering how slow they were-- better to leave themselves the whole day for the workout.

You've come a long way-- and if you're lucky, you'll be one of those 80-something geezers opening the indoor pool every day.

HOKIEX said...

"But there is a strong possibility that, Ironman finisher's gear or not, I was just patronized by a 15-year-old girl."

Too funny. Great post!