Back in April 2008 I was getting persistent pain down in my abdomen and being the responsible type I went to a medical clinic near work and they siphoned a bunch of blood from me and ran the usual battery of tests. It turned out to be a prostate infection, treated by the usual antibiotics (or not the usual in my case, but that’s another story). One of the doctors also informed me that my blood sugar level was slightly higher than average, making me pre-diabetic in his estimation. He foretold, gypsy-like, of a future a year hence when I would be a full-fledged diabetic if I didn’t improve my diet, exercise more and lose weight.
After a few tentative steps, I resolved to improve my health in early June. I weighed myself for reference and came in at 187.5 pounds. Fat. And plenty of it.
I cut out all junk food and fast food from my diet, started cooking lean fresh meat and veggies and stuck to at least three meals per day. Today I weigh 147.5 pounds. Using my fantastic math skills (Windows Calculator) I have determined that there is now 21.4% less of me than there was seven months ago. I marvel at how I have saved so much money by eating healthier meals I make for myself.
But wait! To exercise, I bought a bike to ride to work. Then I bought an exercise bench and a set of dumbbells. I bought four books on exercise and diet (sensible-eating diet, not fad diets). I figured swimming lessons would be a good thing, so I signed up for those.
I then discovered as I shed the decades of roly-poly that my pants didn’t quite fit anymore. In fact, I could take off my jeans without unzipping them. I needed new jeans that were two sizes smaller. My medium t-shirts were also kind of baggy and billowy now, requiring replacement with small sizes. Even my stylish medium boxer shorts were too big now. Who would have guessed I’d want underwear for my birthday?
Losing a lot of weight has cost me a lot of money. Overall it’s been worth it. Being able to take off my shirt in public without inspiring Stephen King levels of horror is, I think, a good thing.
It was night #2 for the ol’ swimming lessons and I was ready. I had a proper duffel bag for my towel and trunks, I had nifty-looking goggles and I had practiced that whole blowing-bubbles-in-the-water thing in my kitchen sink in nice, comfy warm water and without incident (drowning in your kitchen sink is one of the more embarrassing ways to kill yourself). I was one of the first to arrive and Dave came over to say hello and asked me how my leg was. Thoughtful.
He then presented me with a straw. He vouched that it was all sanitary and chlorinated and such, then explained that I would be breathing into the straw to help me with the whole breathing in water business. I did so several times without causing injury and he seemed pleased. Or at least slightly less worried.
There were more people at tonight’s lesson. I believe it was six total, split between the sexes. The girls were in their teens while the guys all skewed much older. Odd that. Pete claimed he had last been swimming about 40 years earlier and would go on to complain several times about water up the nose.
While the others did some rudimentary exercises with kicking feet and rolling over while kicking feet, I was advised to keep at the more basic stuff until I was comfortable or even bored with it. I was okay with this. At one point a second instructor who was along for the night walked (swam?) me through simple exercises to get me used to breathing out while in and under the water. She suggested humming a tune and ultimately came up with The Beatles’ “When I’m 64.” We began humming together and as I dunked my head I was so focused on the humming that I pretty much forgot the breathing. Turned out to be one of those “chewing gum and rubbing your tummy” things. I did better without the humming and graduated past the straw.
The combination of breathing and head-dipping resulted in water in my right ear. I was told it happens to a lot of swimmers, which suggests it doesn’t happen to some. I want to know how certain people end up with magical water-repelling ears because I’d like a pair.
At the end of the lesson Dave came over and asked me if I was comfortable and all that and was concerned over whether I would show up for Thursday. I told him I was good for the remainder of the course, knowing I am often a slow learner when it comes to new things and would be satisfied as long as I was making some kind of progress.
When I changed, I nearly stabbed myself with the safety pin attached to my locker key.
Looking back, I am left with a few observations on my swimming thus far:
the pool is just really freaking cold. I told Dave that maybe I am part reptile or something because the water never feels warm to me and it makes me tense up, which is bad for swimming. I’m mulling things to help, like stretching before the lesson starts or investigating heated bathing suit technology.
I have the grace of a boulder. As soon as I move in the water, it’s like every part of my body decides it wants to find a different way out. I don’t float so much as drift for a moment like a listing ship before sinking. “Keep your hips up!” Dave advised. “Keep your butt down. Relax.” After awhile it felt like foreplay. Bad foreplay.
I only ingested a small amount of water tonight and the goggles helped with the head-dunking. They leak a little but are definitely better than going naked. About half of us had goggles.
no one dropped the soap in the change room. In fact, there was no soap. Most guys seem to wear boxers. Yeah, I looked. So sue me.
There was a time when I would have been self-conscious about being the slowest person in the group but that part of my ego wandered off a long time ago. I’m not going to end up rivaling Aquaman here but I’m already ahead of where I was and that’s good enough for me. Now I just need to find some way to get the pool water to heat up another ten degrees…
How not to swim: During your first lesson you kick your legs so hard in the water in a futile attempt to keep warm you end up pulling a muscle in your left leg.
It reminded me of an injury I suffered in junior high, which I’ll get to in a moment. For the swimming, the muscle became very tender after the lesson had ended, so I figured it would be best to let it rest for a couple of days (lesson #2 was only two nights later). I now have a duffel bag and am getting goggles for lesson #3, though. I’m sure it will be totally awesome and flawless.
The junior high injury was during a gym class in the dead of winter, temperatures below freezing. We were doing orienteering in some local woods and at one point I carefully climbed over a barbed wire fence, wearing only a sweatshirt, a pair of shorts and my trusty running shoes. During the science class that followed, I felt something warm on my leg and pulled up the pant leg to reveal a prominent gash where the barbed wire had sliced through. There was much blood. I marveled over how the cold had completely masked this, then went to the nurse because the science teacher did not like the blood all over the place.
Tonight I took my first swimming lesson ever. Let me begin by summarizing my current swimming technique:
leave water before drowning
I figured if I didn’t drown tonight, I had already made progress.
Now, I do not have a duffel bag for my trunks ‘n towel so I thought I’d grab one after work. As I approached the bus stop at Venables & Vernon, I see that the rail crossing lights are flashing a few blocks down yonder, where my bus will be coming from. Hopefully, I think, it will just mean a few minutes delay.
25 minutes later, the gates finally lift, the lights stop flashing and the bus finally shows up. There was no actual train crossing the street save for about two minutes somewhere in the middle of that 25. The rest of the time the train stood on either side of the crossing, just close enough for the gates and lights to stay triggered. I’m pretty sure the engineer was doing it just to be a jerk.
As the bus became super-crowded, the rear doors decided they would stop working, leading to further delays. By the time I get home, it is 45 minutes later than usual. I won’t have time for a duffel bag tonight so I stuff my trunks and towel into my rather small shoulder bag.
I head to the Vancouver Aquatic Centre and the air is warm and heavy inside. After walking through sheets of rain in the cold to get there it’s nice and comfy. I explain to a cashier that I am here for the 7:20 class and she advises me to wait 5-10 minutes, then head on down to the changing room.
As I wait, I observe the various people swimming in lanes marked fast, medium and slow. Some are using those little surfboard thingies to help keep them afloat. I’m hoping I’ll get one of those. The crowd seems to be mostly male and most of these guys are, in fact, wearing Speedos. Many sport swimming caps and goggles. These guys are serious. I already feel inadequate. And speaking of that, I can’t help but notice one guy wearing a Speedo with a package that is sticking out like the arm of a cactus. I mean, dude, that’s just not subtle. Maybe I’m just used to seeing photos where the bumps are all airbrushed away for propriety.
After a few more minutes of observation, I proceed in. Your stuff is stored in one of those lockers that requires a quarter to get the key. I remember trying to use one of these at Canadian Tire and the locker denied me entry no matter how many times I tried to make it work. In the back of my mind I hear Jim McKay already talking about “the agony of defeat”. Turns out it works fine. I change into my spanky new trunks and wander around through the maze-like changing room until I arrive at the pool. I ask someone wearing a t-shirt labeled “Coach” where I might go for the class. He directs me to another gentleman who then tells me to head to the far end of the pool and wait for the instructor. I pad over there and a few minutes later a young fresh fellow by the name of Dave arrives and introduces himself. There are only four of us signed up for this class (not surprising, considering it’s the middle of winter) but only one other person shows up. I’ve forgotten his name but he was Eastern European, so I’ll call him Nicco for now. Unlike me, Nicco can actually swim. This becomes evident in short order.
Dave gets us to kick our legs in the water to get used to the temperature, then we head in and do a little running on the spot. At this point I’m thinking the water feels pretty freaking cold. Nicco concurs. I feel my muscles contracting, getting ready to put me in a safe state of hibernation. I try not to shiver.
The first part of the lesson is blowing bubbles under the water, followed by sticking your head entirely under the water and doing the same thing. The idea is to get you used to breathing out when under the water and just get comfortable with the whole thing. I am a bit hesitant, partly because dipping lower into the water makes me feel colder and my breath constricts, not exactly ideal for the exercise. I do manage to blow a few bubbles but the head-under-water bit has to wait.
We do a few more simple exercises, like pushing off from the pool edge and propelling ourselves by kicking. I am told my hips are too low and my butt is too high. I’m also too tense. I feel like I’m on a date trying to get to third base. A few more attempts yield better results. Dave moves on to having Nicco do more advanced stuff, like rolling over while stroking. Dave knows that if I tried this I’d roll over and sink. To confirm his suspicions, I do one of those head dips and breathe in at the wrong time, resulting in a coughing fit. Dave asks if I’m okay. I hold up my hand, the universal sign for “I’m not dying but I can’t talk quite yet”. I eventually croak out in a barely audible voice, “I’m okay.” He tries to look convinced. Such a nice man.
Dave emphasizes to me the need to relax, to just go nice and slow and steady. He compares learning to swim to learning to fly. I am a bit puzzled by this comparison because as far as I know, we can’t fly unless we’re using wings and jet engines. He goes on to explain that it’s similar because you’re not touching the ground and gravity is no longer a factor. Okay, I can grasp that. I’m still sinking more than I should, though, perhaps because I am a strong believer in gravity.
By the time the 40 minutes has elapsed, I realize the water still feels freaking cold. I ask Dave what the temperature is and he asks the guy I originally talked to. He declares the official temperature as 27 Celsius (about 80 F). This sounds pretty nice. Maybe it’s another one of those psychological things. It feels cold because I think it feels cold. I just need to think, “Wow, this 27 degree water is pretty warm!” Yeah, that’ll work.
As we get ready to leave, Dave tells me I should practise breathing out into a sink full of water. People hardly ever drown doing that. Or so I like to imagine. I’ll try tomorrow. It’ll be fun. I’ll make sure the water is warmer than 27 C, too. Stupid cold water.
When I’m changing back into my clothes, a guy comes up to a locker near mine. He has a towel wrapped around his waist. Probably just had a shower, I’m thinking. Turns out he’s rather coquettish, as he’s one of those people who puts on his skivvies under the towel, so as to not expose the family jewels to the light of day. It seems a bit weird to me. I mean, it’s not like anyone will suddenly look at him and shout, “Omigod, that is the smallest wiener I have ever seen!” Or maybe that’s exactly what happened and he’s been permanently traumatized by it.
I’m a bit disappointed at the progress I made with this first lesson, but it was progress and although I smell faintly of chlorine, no ambulances had to be called, so I’m calling tonight a success.
Today I went looking for swimming trunks again. At Sport Check the answer was basically, “We don’t carry swimwear in the middle of winter” which would make sense if one assumes people in Vancouver never:
a) swim indoors
b) travel to other climes where swimming in the winter is not just possible, but done regularly and with great pleasure
I decided to check The Bay and after a helpful clerk pointed me to their selection, I discovered once again that nearly every pair of swimming trunks they had were for sizes XXL to XXXXXL. Really, I must assume that fat* people simply do not swim. I managed to find a medium pair of trunks and gambled that they would fit well enough to not come off and cause an embarrassing pool incident. The helpful clerk lauded me for taking up a good cardiovascular workout such as swimming, confessing that he did not swim particularly well himself. Then he cheerfully advised me to not drown.
I picked up the Mom Laptop™ from the Puralator store today. It’s a Dell Inspiron and seems pretty nice — 15.4″ widescreen display, fast Core 2 Duo processsor. It also came bundled with a 30-day trial of McAfee and the Google Desktop, already installed. I removed the McAfee stuff and substituted AVG for anti-virus protection, loaded up and made Firefox the default browser, grabbed the nearly 50 MB of Windows updates, deleted the Google desktop and got the line of icons in the bottom right corner of the screen down to a half-mile in length. I’ll be setting up the wireless connection tomorrow and exposing mom to the wilds of the Internet. I’m undecided on whether I am to be commended or condemned for this.
* if you find the term “fat” demeaning or offensive, please substitute the phrase “dimensionally enhanced”
Damage is clearly visible on the modern plastic container I use to safely transport my sandwich to work Monday to Friday:
How did this calamity strike?
I fell on it.
I was walking to work this morning down lovely East 19th Avenue and it was cold, dark and as it turns out, more than a tad icy. I stepped off a section of sidewalk that had been left unshoveled and onto a nice, clear section that had been shoveled. This clean section of sidewalk also has lots of hard-to-see ice on it, runoff that had frozen from Bad Neighbor’s uncleared section. As soon as my foot hit the ice, I knew what was happening. I put out my hands. I fell back, as if taking the Nestea plunge. I went splat. I quickly got back up to my feet, the wind knocked out of me but otherwise unhurt. I was more concerned about missing the bus or worse, someone having witnessed my Funniest Home Videos moment.
I didn’t realize I had landed on and smooshed my sandwich container until I took it out of my shoulder bag (man purse) for lunch. The sandwich, oddly enough, was unhurt, thus proving the effectiveness of meal safety equipment.
After work I bought a pair of boots to replace the amazing treadless sneakers I otherwise normally wear. I know there’s no guarantee the same thing won’t happen even with a pair of boots but since personal jetpacks aren’t fully ready yet, they’ll have to do.
On an unrelated note, I also looked for swim trunks while boot-shopping and Sears had a (not surprisingly) small selection to choose from. The sizes ranged from extra large to hill giant, so I’m wondering if they overstocked or maybe fat people just never swim. Or they make their own swim trunks. Or swim nude. Or buy at The Bay. Or something.
First, I missed posting yesterday not for lack of things to say but because I forgot to say them. I could fudge a post with a fake date and no one would be the wiser but I’ll save that kind of chicanery for something more deserving.
So, Facebook. I signed up and now when I check my e-mail I find out I have a new friend or should have this new friend or someone has written on my “wall” or their wall or some other wall and you should see this or check out that or, well, on it goes. On and on and on. I’d say “like the ABBA song” but that ends after four minutes. Facebook is like a giant rug where you start pulling on a loose thread and no matter how much it unravels the thread never runs out because someone is busily knitting away at the other end of the rug. Let this serve as illustration to the axiom that all analogies suck. They really do.
So yeah, Facebook. It’s weird to get messages from people I have not spoken to in more than 20 years. I can’t decide if I like the whole thing yet or not.
I have not seen any movies this festive holiday season. Part of the reason is $12 for a ticket seems fairly outrageous. It’s like the movie theater chains are saying “If you won’t buy our $6 tub of popcorn and $3 small Coke from our bountiful concession, we’ll just add them into the price of the ticket”. The other reason is no new movie interests me, at all. That’s a bit odd, though I mulled over seeing Quantum of Solace, but as much as I like Daniel Craig as James Bond, I’m not coughing up $012 for 007.
On January 6th I start swimming lessons at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre. I may be the only person in town buying swimming trunks who isn’t getting out of town after doing so. Considering my usual swimming style can be described as “thrashing about wildly in the water as if drowning because I am in all probability, actually drowning”, I look forward to the potential improvement!