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Missing my (annoying) pool

Prior to the covid-19 pandemic and “le confinement”, going for a swim at my neighborhood pool in Brussels tried my patience.  But, as a triathlete living here for the past 6 years, I have been a regular in the mornings when I’m training for a race, and I have endeared myself to its idiosyncrasies.

First of all, the pool is 33 meters.  Why in the world would someone build a pool that length?  Just to be different?  Strangely though, my Garmin watch actually has a setting for it, so it must be a thing - just not one I’d ever heard of.  Workouts constantly have to be adapted.  Swimming a set of 100s means you swim three lengths for each, and I guess you’re only doing 99s.

The lane lines are little more than loose ropes that barely do anything to stop the waves, so the water is very choppy.  I tell myself that this is good practice for open water swimming, but my stomach has gotten used to somewhat regular doses of chlorinated water.  Also, they don’t string them up to match the markings on the bottom of the pool so you can’t use the black line on the bottom as the middle marker for your lane.  Your guess is as good as mine.

The pool rules also take some getting used to.  Wearing a skin-tight suit is mandatory as is a cap if you have long hair.  You’re not allowed to bring anything onto the pool deck either.  Violations are swiftly dealt with by the lifeguards, who don’t seem particularly interested in things such as kids running or narrowly missing one another as they jump off the diving board.  I can’t remember a time when I’ve heard a lifeguard yell, “Marchez!” But, when I tried to swim with my wetsuit on in preparation for a race last year, I only made it 66 meters before I was stopped and told it wasn’t allowed.   

Then there is the fact that there are no designations for slow, medium and fast lanes.  To me, this is the real rub.  It is just a free-for-all.  That means that experienced swimmers are in the same lanes as the not-so-experienced ones.  Attempts to get this changed fall on deaf ears.  Wouldn’t it be safer if you divided it up by lane, I’ve asked?  “The pool is for everyone and people can swim where they like,” they say.  To me, this is like the swimming pool equivalent of the old guy who drives below the speed limit on the highway in the fast lane because it is his right to do so as a taxpayer.  So, like the cars trying to get around that guy, I am constantly dodging and weaving, putting on the brakes and flooring it.

Swimming etiquette is also different here.  If you are behind someone touching their toes indicating a pass as you near the wall, more times than not they will just turn and continue rather than stop.  If you did this where I grew up, you’d get a quick earful.   Also, it is perfectly normal to see someone doing bobs at the end of a lane, floating upside down with their feet up or skimming the bottom under you.

It is only now that we are all deprived of it though, I realize how much I miss it.  It’s like an arranged marriage with a partner I didn’t like at first but have now grown to love.  For one, how great is it that so many of my regular pool mates are over 80?  I think of the guy who no one really understands, but talks everyone’s ear off in a mix of French and Arabic; the intrepid woman who – regardless of the weather – rides her bike to the pool every morning; the nice guy who always greets me warmly as he adjusts his suit that perpetually covers only half of his butt; the woman who swims with only one fin …  

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  • I worry about my octogenarian friends now.  I hope they are doing ok in these crazy times.  Belgium seems to have flattened the curve, so we may be back at it sometime in the near future.  But when we are, will they all be there to swim with me in my lane, stubbornly turn at the wall as I try to pass, cause me to swallow water, bob in front of me and talk my ear off?  I certainly hope so.  Courage mes amis.

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