"You're stagnating," Buster said.
He was standing at the end of the lane looking down at me.
Buster was an African American guy about my age with an enormous smile.
"You need to change it up," he grinned.
I could barely see him through my cloudy goggles.
"I can help you if you want me to," he said.
Twelve years ago, I used to swim during my lunch hour at a run down pool in a dicey neighborhood.
Every day I'd swim a mile of free-style and return to work.
I don't know what made Buster take and interest, but he started helping me.
From then on, when I showed up at the pool he would hand me a carefully thought out workout written on an index card.
He showed me how to wet the card and stick to a kick board so that it would lean like a gravestone against the diving platform at the end of my lane.
Buster made me add breaststroke and backstroke to my routine.
I was terrible at both. So terrible, in fact, that when The Cute Guy Who Also Swam There saw me, he looked down and said,
"Branchin' out, eh?"
[Luckily it's hard to blush when you're already red in the face from exertion.]
Buster made me learn to do a flip turn and then started adding endless sets of butterfly kick to my workout.
He made me do fly kick on my stomach, on my back and on my sides.
Back and forth, back and forth, over and over...
It was nearly impossible for me and I swore I was drowning.
Buster sat on the diving platform at the lane's end laughing and insisting that I keep trying.
"When it gets easy, you'll be able to fly," he said.
Swim the butterfly?
The idea made me snort.
I was a grown-up, drama club geek in size twelve pants.
I only exercised because...
I don't know...
My mother never ceased stressing it's importance?
It offset the beer calories?
Anyway, I swam the damned fly kick sets because I liked Buster.
I'd even say we grew to like each other.
I don't know why he chose to coach me the way he did. It was almost like he picked me at random.
Like he waved his finger around in the air until it landed on me.
We laughed and joked at my struggle with his intense workouts.
And then, one day, as if by miracle, I could fly and I loved it.
Soon after, Buster got a job with UPS and left his lifeguard position.
I have never seen him again.
This morning at the pool, I swam 40 laps of free-style to warm up and followed it up with 40 laps of butterfly.
Other swimmers look at me cock-eyed, like I'm a freak.
I mean, who swims that much fly?
I don't care.
I love the way it feels to swim the stroke and the resulting strength in my belly.
I thought about Buster as both arms pulled me up and out of the water for a breath.
It's because of Buster that now I think of myself as an athlete, a swimmer.
I am a swimmer.
I bet he has no idea that he changed my life.