Dayswimming.

swimmerSeptember’s coming soon.

I’m pining for the moon.

And what if there were two

Side by side in orbit around the fairest sun?

-R.E.M., “Nightswimming”

 

Every time the Olympics come around I make the same joke: I’m gonna move to a small island nation and take up a sport and that’ll be my free ticket to the big event. And I think there would be other advantages to living on a small island. Vanuatu for instance has a cool volcano—actually a really hot volcano, which is kind of the point. And Tuvalu is less than eleven square miles, so pizza delivery must be really fast there, and its capital is Funafuti and it would be great to live in a place that starts with “fun”. Sure there are disadvantages like not being able to find a decent pool hall or eventually being swallowed up by rising oceans, but every place has its ups and downs. I thought about this the other night while watching Olympic competitors swim—specifically the butterfly stroke, which, believe it or not, used to be my event back when I was part of a swim team. Oh yeah, believe it or not I was part of a swim team.

I wasn’t exactly a good swimmer, although I was pretty good at the butterfly stroke which is really challenging, especially over long distances. At least I was the only member of the swim team good enough to do it in competition so they put me in. It seems strange to me now because I never really did care about being part of the swim team. It was when we were members of the Dolphin Club, although calling it a “club” was a stretch. It was a plus-sign shaped swimming pool in a field on the outskirts of town, past a small collection of warehouses and auto shops that I’m pretty sure would be happy to take that car of yours that you “lost” the keys to with no questions asked, but that’s another story. There was a weedy tennis court with a rotting net next to the pool that I think was the only thing that qualified the place as a “club”. And the membership was small enough that the swim team really needed all the members it could get, so even though I was a mediocre swimmer who didn’t really care and never won anything I was never in danger of being cut. You may be wondering why I bothered with being a member of the swim team in the first place, especially since I did feel kind of self-conscious about my diving ability, or lack of it. All my teammates and fellow competitors could dive cleanly off the starting blocks into the water, but I never got the hang of that and could only just sort of flop, and by the time I got oriented and going I’d already be eating everybody else’s watery dust. But the swimming season wasn’t that long, especially since the Dolphin Club never made it to the semifinals or playoffs or Swim Series or Swimmerbowl or Swimmly Cup or whatever the big finale is in swimming. And I liked to swim and being part of the team meant getting into the pool early, before the crowds—which at the Dolphin Club meant about a dozen people—arrived. It was also fun on hot summer mornings to jump right into the cold pool and do a few lazy warm up laps, twisting my body around under the water, thinking about humpback whales migrating from the iceberg-laden waters of the Arctic to the tropical regions every year. That was worth humiliating myself in competition every Saturday because, in case I haven’t emphasized this enough, I really didn’t care about competing.

Anyway my wife pointed out that being from a small country isn’t enough in itself, that there is a minimum requirement of ability needed to qualify for the Olympics, so even if I did pack up everything and move to a small island in the middle of nowhere I still wouldn’t qualify for a free ticket to the big event even if I could finally learn to dive.

And I don’t want to treat the efforts of the athletes from these countries as a joke. Every athlete who goes to the Olympics has worked hard to get there and they all want to win. For the ones from small counties, the ones with delegations of a few athletes, or the ones who are only sending one athlete, the chances of bringing home a medal may be slimmer but the stakes are so much higher because so much attention is focused on them. They’ve made incredible efforts just to be able to qualify.

That is something to care about.

13 Comments

  1. Gilly Maddison

    Anyone who can even swim deserves a medal in my opinion, even if it is only next to a weedy tennis court in a plus shaped pool. Having only ever managed to get a 15 yard swimming certificate doing dog paddle with one foot on the bottom, I am impressed by anyone who can do better and I consider them to be of Olympic standard.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The funny thing is when I was very young I was terrified of the water. It took quite a while for me to get used to the water. Maybe all you need is a little more time in the aquatics arena.

      Reply
      1. Gilly Maddison

        That is true – but I am not really that bad any more – I did learn to scuba dive eventually. However, in later life, I developed a revulsion about getting into public swimming pools after seeing something horrendous floating in one. The UK isn’t the greatest place for sea swimming (well not on our part of the coast anyway). So sadly, I don’t swim now. I will have a pool installed in the mansion I am trying to manifest from the universe. ?

        Reply
  2. Gilly Maddison

    Wow – what an amazing film! Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Jay

    Eddie the Eagle, who competed in the 1988 Calgary Olympics, pretty much put an end to free rides. He wanted to be an Olympian so bad he took up a sport that no one else in his country played. As your wife said, today there are minimum requirements, which vary by sport, but some sports, like swimming, also have “universality places” for countries that would struggle to send an athlete in that event (ie, they don’t have anyone who can meet the qualifying times). The Olympics want every country to send a certain number of female athletes, for example, and this encourages them to do so. Probably not helpful to you. No shortage of white men.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’d forgotten Eddie the Eagle whose story really was inspiring. But as a white man I’m happy to step aside for others who are underrepresented. Even if I could qualify for something I think the spirit of the Olympics is to encourage diversity.
      Darn it, if I keep talking like that I’m going to wreck my terrible reputation.

      Reply
  4. Arionis

    You should have never posted this. We are all going to move to Funafuti now and ruin your odds. Do they have an Olympic Beer Drinking team?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Hey, if everyone moves to Funafuti at least that’ll increase the odds of someone opening a decent pool hall there. And now that you mention it I bet it’s hard to get good beer in Tuvalu too. Micronesia needs microbreweries.
      Yeah, it’s too bad there’s not an Olympic Beer Drinking team. Sounds like you and I could really go for the gold.

      Reply
      1. Arionis

        It would certainly be fun training for it!

        Reply
  5. halfa1000miles

    Why does your wife have to be such a killjoy on the talent thing? Gawd. And Fiji won something. We’re happy about that, right?

    I know I would always call it “Funfetti”.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’d never thought of that–if I lived in Funafuti I’d also be calling it “Funfetti” all the time.
      And my wife’s not a killjoy. She’s just realistic. Believe me. I need that realism to reign me in.

      Reply
  6. Ann Koplow

    I care about this post, Chris, and all the comments. Thanks for the funfetti.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you for throwing a little extra funfetti of your own into the mix.

      Reply

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