Sink or swim

Not too long ago, I was watching my five-year-old child, well at least the top half of her, splashing and bobbing up and down at her swim lesson.

Not too long ago, I was watching my five-year-old child, well at least the top half of her, splashing and bobbing up and down at her swim lesson.

All of sudden, an epiphany came to me.

This chlorinated pool of water is really a microcosm of all walks of life: laid bare, so to speak, in an assortment of Speedos, bikinis and board shorts.

It’s a place where all shapes, sizes, colours, creeds and ages strip themselves half naked to enjoy the cool waters of community in a fun, relaxing manner.

Pretty profound, eh?

But honestly, where else can you see so many people having a good time without any worries except whether their head bangs against the wall while doing the backstroke, or their derriere hangs out of the aforementioned Speedo?

And as witnessed, many don’t seem to care about the latter that much.

The pool really is a place where people can be themselves, without pretenses, and the false security of clothing –– that material mask we hide behind.

I’d much rather squeeze into my bathers at the pool than lounge around some beach, where eyes are peeled on the latest tattoo and tan.

Seriously, when I go to the beach, I go fully draped in board shorts and a T-shirt lathered in SPF 30, with a book that I never seem to read because someone is usually kicking sand in my face as they run past.

I’d rather dive right into the lake, than hang around the shore, if you know what I mean. And as this is Canada, the beach is only good for at least two months of the year, hence the importance of the indoor pool for those who want to swim like the fishes, rather than with them.

I wasn’t always a fan of the pool or swimming. In fact, I used to be a terrified toddler. My mother says it was due to the fact that my father, in his infinite wisdom, decided to throw me in without a flotation device.

The sink or swim method, used back then, is sort of frowned upon nowadays.

After some lessons, courtesy of the Red Cross, I eventually managed to dunk my head below the surface, and then you couldn’t stop me.

By 13, I was a member of the University of Toronto swim club, and even competed in a few meets (50-metre freestyle and 100-metre backstroke.) However, the competitive spirit left me after I didn’t qualify for my high school’s swim team, and I decided to become a lifeguard and instructor instead.

After passing my bronze medallion, I went after my bronze cross and NLS (National Lifeguard Service, which I had to take twice as the first time I couldn’t tread water for five minutes while holding a 150 pound boy’s head above the surface.)

My first job was with the downtown Toronto YMCA. I was so proud to don my red tank top and black shorts to scan the 25-metre and accompanying wading pool with its hydraulic floor where you could change the water depth.

I spent three years there, working the 6 a.m. shift, after school and on weekends, watching people splash their way down a lane, and helping an absolutely terrified child relax so he could do a hands-free float.

We had an incredible cross-section of the community come to swim, and some very familiar faces: acclaimed environmentalist David Suzuki was a regular, and he would always bring along his then young daughter, except for the day we had to close the pool down, due to, ahem, fecal matter that had “leaked” out from a young patron. A scientist, Suzuki seemed to understand that you don’t want to swim in water that has been super-cholorinated.

Famed long distance swimmer Vicky Keith, who had swam around (!) all of the Great Lakes, used to come in and do five kilometres of butterfly in one go. She amazed me.

Then there was Dr. Henry Morgentaler (we guards lovingly called him “Hairy”), whose young son once came up to me to ask if I knew who his father was. Yep, I’d heard of him, was my innocent reply.

Years later, as I watched my daughter at her lesson, I was reminded how the pool is a sanctum, our connection with each other. Its openness serves as an example of what we humans can do when we swim together. It’s that deep.