Friday, August 22, 2008

Catalyst

"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.

"What?"

"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.


32 comments:

All Adither said...

Oh, that's awesome. I hope, I hope he somehow stumbles across this blog one day.

Little Monkies said...

awesome. and,girl,how you have passed it on!

Anissa Mayhew said...

Sometimes it's awesome to just put the thanks out there for a life changing experience, whether that person will ever know or not. Your heart knows.

Mrs. Schmitty said...

Whoa! You are like a fish! Buster did well!

GoteeMan said...

Write books - I will buy - seriously...

most of the really key people have no idea they are, because their focus is outside of themselves...

this week, a young lady K and I have known since she was 12, who is now 25, married and has 3 kids, found me on facebook and told me that she always looked up to me and K, and our relationship, and that she was not surprised that in the midst of our difficulty, we are still doing well and together and love each other very much...

it's amazing to me how much those who watch closely really get it, and how much they don't see of what's a mess sometimes.... or maybe how we worked through the mess is what she saw.. who knows...
all the while, we were pretty oblivious, and didn't even have any idea we wuz being watched...

J/

JCK said...

Wouldn't it be cool if somehow you tracked Buster down? Great story. Go you! I've got to get back in the pool...

stoneskin said...

Love it. Gonna practice my fly now...

Reminds me a bit of my hero.

furiousBall said...

i got some advice from a fellow runner about incorporating yoga poses to cure shin splints and man that made all the difference. There are Busters everywhere, we just need to do like you, and listen

LadyBugCrossing said...

Wow - how wonderful!
Now... if I had a pool and a kickboard, I'd be half way there...

Lisa Milton said...

I've never been one for the pool myself, but watching my daughter learn the butterfly this summer - she's still working on it - I get it.

She lives to be in that pool.

I'm so impressed.

(What a great coach.)

AliBlahBlah said...

Loved this post. Very inspirational. I'm an ocean swimmer although it's much easier to talk yourself out of a dip in the ocean if you can't find a gang (ie other shark bait) to swim with.

Hetha said...

I'll bet that he does, and that's precisely why he stuck to it with you. You are an incredible athlete, that is a shit load of laps! I think of swimming as the most exhaustive form of exercise out there!

chilihead said...

You know what's so great about this story? That you did it. I don't mean that you did the Butterfly. I mean that you took the opportunity and became friends and talked to him.

I don't know that I would have. I am so shy that I would have felt I was wasting his time--even though he approached you. I would have given off vibes that said, "It's better if you don't."

So good for you. You let it change your life and you're better for it. Well done.

Janet said...

You swim the fly? That's hot.

It's amazing how these random acts of helping can change our lives. Utterly delicious.

Amanda said...

You know, soaring the way you did, you may have changed his life.

Not Hannah said...

Holy mackerel, do I need a Buster.

So glad you found yours...

Jennifer said...

I am a swimmer too. And, dude, 40 LAPS OF BUTTERFLY?? You are insane. And I bet I wish I had your back and shoulders. Three cheers for Buster!

Patience said...

I'd bet Buster changed a lot of people's lives in lots of ways!

foop said...

I love this; the idea that people can plant seeds in the world that flourish and blossom even if they're not there to see it.

Rock that fly, girl.

Claire B. said...

Rock that fly, indeed. Great post.

Vodka Mom said...

i've always wanted to fly.......

Sarah said...

You make me want to learn how to swim. Great post/

Emily N said...

40 laps of butterfly?! What that tells me is you could totally kick my ass.

I feel sad for Buster tho. It sounds like he could be an amazing coach or teacher - why is he working at UPS?! I hope he's found something better by now where he's using his rare skills.

Jenifer said...

You are in some good shape lady! I used to swim with a club and compete and there is nothing like mastering the fly.

IRISHKAT said...

I agree, there s nothing more invigorating then a few good laps of fly - though 40 is a bit crazy in my book! :)

Ciambellina said...

Great story! Swimming has had a similar impact on me (I mean, how I feel doing the laps; I only did butterfly when I did a course and the coach made me!).

It's a shame more people don't swim because it is truly an amazing sport.

Keep up those laps!

Chicky Chicky Baby said...

I bow to your athletic prowess. I can't half that many laps dog paddling.

Tranny Head said...

How badass of you. When I attempt the butterfly I look like a bad guy in a horror movie in the final death throes after dying 40 times before and yet finally dying for the last time.

Jenny, the Bloggess said...

And I bet you have no idea you've changed mine.

Liberal Banana said...

Your first three commenters all used the word "awesome" and now my brain can't seem to think of any other word than "awesome" - but that's really what this story is. Awesome. I mean, really. How many people do you know that have a story like that? That is so freakin' cool. I can just see you guys reuniting on Oprah or something. Buster is one of those people that, if there is an afterlife, I think he will be well rewarded. He sounds like an angel who brings good things into others' lives, and I am not spiritual at all. We would all be very lucky to have someone like that in our lives at some point - or more importantly, strive to BE that person.

Jan said...

What a wonderful tribute to Buster. He's a great guy.

Tis I. said...

I am in love with Buster.