A few years ago, I did something that I thought was completely altruistic; I voted to pay more taxes so Powell could continue to have a swimming pool.
I considered this a completely unselfish act, carried out solely to benefit Powell's younger citizens. After all, aside from a couple of sessions in motel spas, I hadn't been in a swimsuit in 20 years, and I really didn't have any impulse to put one on.
Furthermore, my wife, who can't swim, totally avoids pools, and our children both live more than 1,000 miles from Powell. At the time of the vote, we didn't even have any grandchildren, so there wasn't even any expectation that I might want to take a visiting descendent for a swim in the pool.
As a result, I didn't expect to get any personal benefit from the pool at all, so why should I want to pay taxes for it?
Being one of those soft-hearted liberals, though, I voted to pay them anyway.
Since then, though, something has changed, and the change began with another altruistic impulse. Since I had not only voted for the pool, but supported it publicly, I began to think I might be obligated to put my money where my mouth is and buy a membership to support the pool. When I broached this subject with my wife, though, she suggested that, if I was going to go that far, I should also actually venture into the water. Not only would that demonstrate real commitment to the aquatic center, but it would do me some good as well.
Well, as it happened, about the time the aquatic center was getting ready to open, information from the annual health fair was advising me to increase my exercise level. It triggered the memory of one summer back the 1980s, when my daughter was preparing for the fall swimming season. I took to accompanying her to the pool before breakfast and swimming five or 10 laps while she covered about 40. I also remembered that, by the end of the summer, I was in pretty good shape.
As a result of this spousal advice and old memories, I have visited the aquatic center roughly twice a week to splash up and down in the big pool ever since it opened.
Now, as you can imagine, after 20 years of not swimming, my first swimming episode was not what you would call smooth.
Anyone watching my first session probably was afraid that he or she might have to jump in to save me from going down for the third time.
It is true that, with swimming as with riding a bicycle, once you've learned to do it, you never forget how — but knowing how to do something and doing it are not always the same thing. I had to keep telling my arms what to do and reminding my legs that they weren't supposed to simply float along behind while my arms did all the work. Convincing the four of them to cooperate took a while. Then there's that whole breathing thing, which has to be coordinated with the arms and legs to avoid inhaling large amounts of water, but I generally avoided that problem by swimming the backstroke most of the time.
Despite my basic incompetence at getting all my body parts to work together toward a common goal, though, I managed to cover a couple of hundred yards on that first visit. I had to take a breather at each end of the pool, but, I figured that was OK, since I was doing something I hadn't done since I was in my 40s.
Well, six weeks later, nobody is going to mistake me for Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps or even for the slowest beginning swimmer on the Powell USA team, but I have made progress. Every trip to the pool has been easier than the last, and I have stretched my workouts to 500 yards or so. On my last trip, I actually swam four lengths of the pool without once having to stop and gasp for air, and I only swam part of it on my back.
This week, I plan to do even better.
As for the benefits, this whole swimming pool thing, coupled with skipping desserts and cutting back on spaghetti, has resulted in the shedding of approximately 15 pounds, bringing me down to a weight I haven't seen since before the last time I went swimming. I'm breathing better, sleeping better, and my knees and ankles aren't bothering me as much as before.
Consequently, I'm counting on the activity to help knock off another five or 10 pounds.
Furthermore, quite aside from the health benefits, I now do have grandchildren, and a couple of them will visit next month. I'm looking forward to taking my granddaughter to the pool, and from what I hear, she's looking forward some time in the water with Poppa, too.
In short, by doing something for my community, I received benefits I hadn't expected at all, and I figure I am receiving a pretty good return for my money. There's a lesson worth pondering in that.
And hey! Come on in! The water's fine.