26-Minute Memoir – Marilyn Nelson
In our mandatory high school swim class, they had to use the long pole to rescue me from the diving pool before I went under for the third time. That’s probably why I had trepidations about starting water aerobics at my local health spa. Luckily, no cute swim jocks were around to see me flailing about in the water this time. The pool is women only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, so the only people there at 5:45 a.m. that morning were a few other sleepy-eyed women, all overweight like me. Among us we probably displaced enough water to fill the Jacuzzi. I actually felt slim and vibrant by comparison. Maybe this would be an ego-boost along with physical therapy for my bum knees.
I walked down the steps into the shallow end of the pool. Friends had tried to convince me to try the deep-water aerobics, but I wanted to keep my feet solidly planted on the pool bottom until I felt comfortable moving down to the deep end. I’m not sure I entirely trust those foam belts to keep me suspended. Even the shallow end was pretty deep, I thought. Four feet to a five-foot tall person like me comes to just below my chin. As we started jogging in place, the wave action splashed against my face.
The exercises seemed pretty easy, every movement created a little bit of resistance from the water, and I felt almost weightless. The skinny little bitch of an instructor was too perky for 6 a.m. and insisted on playing 70s disco music, but at that time of the morning any music would be annoying. After we warmed up a bit, she passed out barbell-looking apparatus made out of foam. I thought, “Good, floaty things! This should be fun!” I was wrong. They actually increased the resistance of the water and made the movements harder. I started to sweat, and wondered, “How can I be sweating underwater?” It made no sense. She then asked us to put the barbell between our legs like we were riding a horse. If I’d wanted to ride a horse, I thought, I wouldn’t be in a swimming pool, but I shoved the barbell down under the water and between my legs. It floated me up and whooshed my legs out from under me, tipping me forward and planting my face in the water. I started thrashing about trying to get my balance and my feet back on the pool bottom. By the time I got that damn barbell out from between my legs, I had gone under three times. Needless to say, I was a little disruptive to the class. The instructor looked relieved when I put the barbell on the side of the pool and finished the class without it. After the class ended, the instructor came over to me and snarkily asked, “Are you OK?” as if to imply, “If you’re going to drown, don’t do it on my watch.”
When he got home, my husband asked me, “How did water aerobics go?” I told him, “Don’t call me Nemo. I’m more like a Flounder.” Other than feeling totally out of my element, I did enjoy the exercises and they helped my knees, so I was determined to go back on Wednesday and try again.
For the next class I decided to try wearing a buoyancy belt, even though I was the only one in the shallow end of the pool wearing a belt. I didn’t want another mishap. Right away I figured out the design flaw of the buoyancy belts—the foam part that makes you float is around the back. Trying to hold yourself upright in the water, the belt makes you tip forward like one of those tippy drinking birds that drink out of a glass of water. And what’s worse, the belt suspends you higher in the water, so my feet were up off the pool bottom. I couldn’t control my position in the water, or where I went. I just bobbed along totally at the whim of the wave action in the pool. As I did the various exercises, instead of facing the instructor, I’d twirl around in random circles (the instructor glaring at me) or would drift over and bump into one of the other women (oops, sorry!). Not a great way to make new friends. I think trying to stay in one place, upright and facing one direction is exercise enough, and it certainly is what takes the most effort. Gaining strength and going with the flow—it’s worth the effort and frustration both in and out of the pool. Besides, now I’m determined not to let that skinny bitch get the best of me!