It took me a couple of weeks to gather up the courage to participate in my first Silver Sneakers swimming pool exercise program. “Silver Sneakers” is a program provided by insurance companies that entitles senior citizens to go to classes at the numerous participating health clubs free of charge and without the necessity of joining that particular club. Some would say that this is evidence of kindness and generosity on the part of insurance companies. I, however, think it is a great conspiracy to slash another excuse for not exercising off my list.
In any event, while recovering from a ruptured disc and the resultant nerve and strength problems in my right knee, I had gone to this health club pool during free periods and walked back and forth, doing a few gentle stretches to benefit my knee and back. After I began to feel somewhat better and was able to walk less like Lurch and more like a dignified, although slightly lame, older woman, I convinced myself that driving 25 miles round trip to the nearest pool wasn’t a good idea because it increased my carbon footprint too much and I could put my footprints in the path around the field or on the street. Of course, that would involve actually going outside and, you know, it’s been raining a lot and the black flies and ticks are waiting and the ground is uneven, which is really bad for someone with hip, back and knee problems. (Anyone who thinks I may run out of excuses anytime soon does not know me well!)
In a moment of facing the truth about a week ago, I checked out the pool exercise classes at the club and made a pact with myself that today, June 6th at 9AM, I would be in that pool come hell or high water (pun intended). And I was!!!
My advance fears and expectations were typical of someone who has struggled all these years with weight and body image. I knew for sure the following:
- I would be the fattest person there.
- I would be the most out of shape.
- I would be the only weirdo who keeps her glasses on in the pool because she doesn’t like to squint and bump into people.
- My bathing suit would be the least attractive and definitely not fashionable.
- I would embarrass myself by leaving after 10 minutes.
I arrived in the pool early. There were already at least 20 women chatting away in various groupings like old friends. Many of them smiled or said hello to me as they maneuvered their way toward people they already knew. Not knowing anyone, I used the time to check out some of my fears and advance assumptions.
- I was not the fattest person there. There were people of all sizes and shapes, and it didn’t seem to matter where I fall on that useless judgmental scale.
- I wasn’t the most out of shape. It’s hard to determine where on that useless judgmental scale I fall, either.
- For a while I was the only weirdo with glasses on, but nobody put themselves in danger of drowning by falling down in hysterics over it. Then another person descended the steps with her glasses on, and then another, and another. Four weirdos in one place means we are no longer weirdos!
- There were all kinds of bathing suits, most of them more or less like mine.
I was feeling pretty confident. More people joined the group, until there were about 30 of us. As each one entered the pool I wondered if she were the instructor.
Then a clearly out-of-place woman entered the pool area. She was YOUNG, TALL, and BUFF! Her black exercise pants were painted on her long, lithe legs and skinny little butt. Surely, I thought to myself, she is just passing through. But no, you guessed it, that was the instructor. She plugged in her music and started yelling: “Jog, move to the right, move to the left, jog, turn right, turn right, turn right, move forward, move back, march, turn left, turn left, turn left, jog, jog, jog.”
The lady next to me sidled over, introduced herself and asked if I was new to the group. She told me she comes regularly and she really likes the instructor. We exchanged a few words about arthritis, which is sort of like the weather as a conversation starter for me now. Looking around at the pool full of senior citizens, I realized that few of us were doing the same moves as that manic young person standing above us yelling like a Drill Sargent on steroids. Many were talking to each other and just halfheartedly moving more or less in time to the music. But moving!!
I wasn’t embarrassed, didn’t feel fat, ugly, or out of shape. Yes, I know that according to some judgment scales I may be. But you know what? Being natty, cool or fashionable is not so important any more. What is? Being nice, friendly, and tolerant of my own and other people’s shortcomings. Gathering the courage to step out of my comfort zone and realizing that most people are doing the same. Noticing when someone is alone and smiling and saying hello in welcome.
A few women left after 20 minutes. I made it to 35, and plan to go back on Thursday.