I recently mentioned meeting an elderly woman at the gym pool where I swim in a status update on Facebook.
For one hour we swam laps in adjacent lanes. I could not help but notice her somewhat frail body, moving at its own pace through the water.
I am not sure how many times I lapped her, or the number of times I paused after sprinting freestyle down my lane, but it never ceased to amaze me that this woman in at least her late 70s kept going lap after lap with no pause.
She rotated between backstroke, free-style, breast stroke, and side stroke.
All I could think was, I hope to have her drive and mobility if I make it to her age. She inspired me to continue my full hour workout when I initially considered cutting out at 45 minutes.
We both ended our hour swims about the same time. Our towels were near each other and as we stood there, patting ourselves dry I couldn’t help but notice the wrinkled skin and varicose veins along her arms and legs.
She looked at the pool and remarked, “I was surprised at how cool the pool water was. Usually I swim at the Y where the water is much warmer for all the older people with arthritis. Is it always like this?”
“Yes,” I said. “The temperature remains pretty consistent.” I noted how she used the word older.
“Really? Hmm,” she said. “Do you swim often?”
“Yes, the pool is quite nice,” I replied.
“Keep it up!” she said, before turning and going toward the women’s locker room.
I felt like I had just received some great compliment. I was very inspired by this woman as I so often am by people I see at the gym, particularly the cardio crowd, you know, those who run and swim and walk.
Months ago there was the 60 plus woman who took the time once to show me how to better my stroke and breathing while swimming. She’d also run multiple marathons, she said, qualified and ran Boston a few times. With her skin you could tell she lived outdoors most of her life. She looked weathered, but in a way that suggested strength and grace. She offered a few race tips for my second marathon too.
Then there is the man I see every once in a while with the long scar that runs down the center of his chest, walking the swim lanes, huffing, determined, improving his fitness and heart health. He likes to say hi, but will often speak at length with the man who must have suffered a stroke. I only gather the other man had a stroke because the right side of his body seems to suffer from partial paralysis. I’ve never seen one person push so hard and be able to swim free-style with one arm until I observed this man.
These people of course are dispersed with twenty and thirty somethings like myself, swimming with their own reasons and their own determination. For some reason though, perhaps because these older folks break my own stereotypes and expectations of what it means to age physically, it is those I just described stand out each time. They make me feel as if I need to strive a little harder, or am only as half-committed to the act of physical activity as they are.
Perhaps they also make me feel a little ashamed of all the excuses I used to have for not getting into better shape, or convincing myself to not do something because I was too afraid of my own limitations that truly only existed in my head.