When I was a kid I spent a lot of time in swimming pools. By the time my parents moved the family from Massachusetts to California when I was in fifth grade I was all about competitive swimming. We went from horrendous hot and humid summers and bone-chilling wet Eastern winters to the relative benign comfortable climate of Northern California. We had a house in Silicon Valley with a pool and a diving board.
I got into it. I raced the breast stroke, learned how to dive and spent days on end in the back yard. Then, disaster. My parents moved us just outside of Chicago and the party was over. The whole family seized up and after only eight short months we gave up Chicago and moved back into the same neighborhood that we were in before in Saratoga, Calif.
In those days, Saratoga was mostly apricot orchards. I worked with the migrants at the farm near our house, cutting the fruits in half, removing the pits and setting the apricot halves onto large metal trays to dry in the sun.
Unlike the ladies I was working with, I collected my cash and headed home to the pool. The pool in our new house was constructed so that the second story roof was right over the deep end. My brothers and I capitalized on this design flaw and we learned to leap from great heights without fear. When my parents came home unexpectedly one day and discovered their sons flinging themselves off the roof above their second story balcony, they went ballistic.
I had a diving coach in high school who was fearless. He’d do a front flip landing back on the board and then do a one-and-a-half with a twist without making a splash. We tried stuff. I feel lucky now that no one ever got hurt flying off the roof into the pool.
After college I moved to the valley and my days of Speedos and shenanigans were behind me. I got to relive a little of my glory days when I would play with my young daughter, Riley, in the awesome pool at Aspen Village. She’d get on my shoulders and I would crouch down and spring her off as I jumped up. “Again,” she would insist.
With the exception of a few visits to the hot springs pool over the years, I have left the gainers, back flips and butterflies safely behind. Until yesterday.
My friend Jim Calaway has been raving about his new exercise routine at the River Valley Ranch pool. When Jim falls in love with something he makes you want to fall in love with it, too. So at 9 a.m. Monday I found myself entering the lap pool at River Valley Ranch with more than 20 other water-exercise enthusiasts. We selected a “noodle” and a couple of buoyant dumbbells and assumed our positions in the lanes.
My mom had told me about water aerobics and I always thought that it would be a great thing for her to do. It’s social and works just about every muscle you have. Perfect for mom, but me? I’m young and strong. I should be doing Crossfit or Zumba, not doing underwater kicks with a noodle. But Monday I was ready for something new and I dove into water aerobics with both feet.
Our instructor, Barbara, hit the music machine and got us stretching. Modern dance versions of dozens of familiar show tunes bubbled from the speakers … Oliver … The Man of La Mancha … Phantom of the Opera … Grease … all of them melding one into the other. We kicked and curled, pedaled and pumped to the music. Many of my fellow swimmers got lost in the tune and sang along, only knowing some of the words, just like me. Luckily, the lady next to me knew all the moves (and most of the words) and helped me choreograph the more complex exercises.
I was the youngest person in the pool but not one of the swimmers held my youth and inexperience against me. Some even asked if I would be back. If they’ll have me I will be back.
After the hour-long session I asked the instructor what part of Massachusetts she was from. I recognized her accent. It turns out she went to the same high school as my mom and her husband worked at the hospital where I was born. It’s a small world. That’s what I found out in the pool at River Valley Ranch.
Steve Skinner has come a long way from the swim meet to the foam dumbbells. Reach him on Mondays in the pool at RVR.