THE SWIMMER (Or a Lesson in Humility)

Charles or Chuck, they called him, was too skinny for football, though he tried out over and over. He was tall enough but overly self-conscious for basketball, having overshot the game winning layup in three tries when no one was within half a court. Even running track he was so asthmatic on a bad day he could not get far beyond the starting blocks. But my-oh-my, how he could swim! Blessed with feet like flippers, paddle-size hands, and a strong back, he swam fast as a water-bug on top of a stagnant pond, plus the humidity nullified his asthma. In his last and only year on the high school swim team, with no prior training, he made All-State as the third member of a four-man relay team. True, one of the sprinters on his team won four gold medals at the Olympics in Mexico, but he considered that minutiae. There was still a ceremony for Chuck and his teammates and his picture was featured in the local newspaper and so on.

 As time went by, at the age of thirty-nine, an offhand remark by a friend got his attention when he showed off his All-State-lettered jacket from high school to the response of, “Say, that thing don’t fit; you’ve got fat!” Never anything but railroad-rail thin all his life the uncalled-for observation sent him reeling. For his fortieth birthday, then, he gifted himself a membership at the local swim club. After six lengths, or three laps, odds were he would pollute the pool with remnants of this morning’s partly digested Bavarian-crème-topped waffle. From that point on, however, he added one lap per week until he slimmed down back in form of his high school days, or, almost.

The town where he lived happened to take sports swimmers as seriously as the CDC takes protozoa. Indoor pools had been built at taxpayer expense with two four meter diving boards and underwater jets to lessen the impact, along with deep cement-bordered lakes, or just about, where scuba divers trained. Another of the features were bleachers for parents to sit and watch their kids practice laps that on most days were full of spectators.

Chuck swam at the City of Mancineville, or COM, swim club and with time was sought after by school coaches for pep talks to the different teams. He had a favorite antidote concerning talent and hard work, saying others had the training but he out-worked them all and shattered the posted records. He said he was so successful a downtown community pool was named after him, guaranteeing his place in the history books. No telling what he could have achieved, he’d go on if he had the training of other swimmers, probably gold medals at the Olympics, rather than the less impressive silver or bronze.

Chuck’s comeuppance (and aren’t there always comeuppances awaiting on the haughty sooner or later?) came unrecognizably as an accolade. His lap swimming was such a novelty he was invited to workout beside the high school team, no doubt as an incentive. One day after a brief but vigorous workout, he got out of the pool to find all the spectators looking, not at their own kids, but at him. Dripping wet but nevertheless reveling in the astonished looks from the stands, he flushed so hot it was miraculous the water droplets didn’t evaporate him dry. To an ovation of gasps and cries, he took a quick bow then headed for the showers while even the high school swimmers stopped practice and cheered. The truly remarkable reaction brought on an inner soliloquy—

“Well, I guess I still got it,” he inwardly congratulated himself. “I bet all those sofa-squatters never saw an exposition like that from a forty-year-old.”

“Shouldn’t gloat,” his conscious warned.

“Come on! Which one of those young floundering guppies kept up with me? Not one, that’s what. Approaching midlife and all the admiring eyes fastened on The Swimmer, how about that?”

“Still shouldn’t gloat.”

“Are you kidding? I passed the fastest they got. I’m in the best shape of my life and I proved it. Why, if I was twenty years younger, I might make a run at the Olympics and most likely win.”

“Nothing good comes from gloating, usually bad.”

“Ah, phooey! Worthless warnings from the envious, that’s what!”

He made his way along the pool edge, past the still gawking bleachers, and through the locker room where he also garnered looks of, well, admiration, he assumed. Not until in the shower under the hot spray where he always removed his swimwear, did he realize a horrifying fact. The back of his suit had fallen off. Chlorine in pool water has a habit of dissolving thread so that the fabric fell off much like back-flap long johns drop down.

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