Dispatches

Aquafun

Edith Iglauer

In the pool we follow the instructor’s moves, arms flying up and down, legs pumping—and we celebrate everything

Three times a week, early on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, Frank and I don outer garments over bathing suits, pull our socks up literally, grab bags of towels and underwear, get into the car and go to Aquafit. The 8:3 news is on the car radio as we drive ten minutes through rain, sleet, snow or fog—and, once in a blue moon, sunshine—to the swimming pool in the basement of our local high school.

Our session of exercise in the water begins at 9 a.m. and goes for forty-five minutes—can you believe it?—non-stop, a routine normally considered unsuitable for nonagenarians like us. The first time I went, I thought we would perform one or maybe several exercises, then pause to catch our breath before starting the next set. Nothing doing! We went on and on and on, and on, without a pause. There must be some mistake, I thought, but everybody, including the friend who had brought me because it would improve my life, looked perfectly calm. No one was objecting, or panting, or shouting to the leader, “You have forgotten to stop!”

On Aquafit mornings we wake up at seven and mull over our prospects. Do we get up, or don’t we? The conversation ranges from “I don’t feel like getting up this morning, do you?” to “If we don’t go now, we might never go again.”

Before entering the pool, most of our classmates stop to pick up three- inch-wide red flotation belts to snap around their middles. Buoyed up by their belts in water otherwise over their heads, they perform the vigorous exercises that our leader, Debbie, demonstrates from dry land at the side of the pool. Frank and I stay in the shallow end, where we can keep our feet on the pool bottom. I once attended a ghastly session in a new aquatic centre in New York where the bottom of the pool had been constructed to rise electronically and let the elderly step in and out without a ladder. When everyone who signed in had arrived, the floor was lowered, slowly. The water climbed up to my chin and, being shorter than the others, I was about to drown. A tall Aquafit regular, who resented the appearance of a stranger, ignored my wildly thrashing arms and shouted, “Keep on going!” Fortunately the floor stopped its descent just in time. Someone Up There was watching over me.

At the pool my neighbours and I greet each other as we descend gingerly into the shallow end, testing the temperature with our toes. On my left is Sue, blonde, beautiful, wonderfully kind, and sixty—always first to arrive. She has a bad leg, and cheerfully walks with a cane, and something about me brings out her caregiving instincts. One week it was hard-to-find bags of cocoa to take home, another it was recipes for mushroom and tomato soups (very good!), and when she precedes me into the dressing room, she always places my clothes in an empty booth before I can stop her. We discuss our latest ailments, our grown children, grandchildren, recipes, and how to obtain free ferry rides when we are going to Vancouver on a medical trip. Just ahead of us is Lorna, a nurse in the local retirement home. She is very tall and stands in deeper water without the belt, treading with such a tranquil look on her lovely face that she seems to be floating. Lately she is beaming, because her first grandchild has arrived. Her even taller husband, who drives a truck in the oil sands at Fort McMurray, Alberta, joins us occasionally. On my other side, my neighbour, Rae, has a positively radiant smile as we pass one another on an exercise where we walk forward across the pool and then reverse and go backward.

The other members of our little group of no-belters are Laura, a charming, white-haired recent arrival from Peru; Louise, a retired social worker whose husband is an ex-Mountie; and Naomi, who has been ill and rarely comes now. When she did, she exercised with her eyes tightly shut. Her husband has been attending Aquafit almost as long as we have. We recently attended the celebration of their fiftieth wedding anniversary at the Community Hall.

When we get to the pool early, I warm up in the sauna that is tucked in the corner. Harry, who is retired from the merchant marine, Dan, a former fireman with a huge moustache, and sometimes Walter, are usually there too, steaming on the hot wooden benches. At nine sharp we move to the pool. Dan jumps in with a flat dive that gives out a resounding slap and a big splash.

One morning I arrived in the sauna and found the three men engaged in an animated talk about old cars, which led to a discussion of old tires. “The newest way to recycle old tires is to cut them up in square pads so cows can lie down on them in the pasture,” Harry said. “They are surprisingly soft, and the cows love them!”

Most of us have established positions in the pool to which we return each session as if our names were painted on top of the water. Newcomers who innocently usurp our places learn somehow—we are very polite—to move on. Frank gets in the pool about fifteen minutes before class starts, at the place he has had for years, halfway down the pool, right at the edge. This gives him an unrestricted view of Debbie’s movements. Heaven help any swimmer who strays too close! He looks like Father Christmas, but he is very territorial.

Those of us at the shallow end keep our feet solidly grounded on underwater tile in about four and a half feet of water. We are careful to avoid the black guidelines on the floor; they have a slippery reputation. Some years ago a friend demonstrated two pairs of flippers she had

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Edith Iglauer

Edith Iglauer is the author of five books, including Inuit Journey and The Strangers Next Door, and many articles in The New Yorker and other publications.

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