Last Sunday morning as my bare feet slapped across the scorching pavement between the ladies’ locker room and the edge of the community pool, I spotted just one empty lane. I moved toward it quickly, claiming it as mine, then slid into the chilly water, shivered in anticipation, and dunked my head. The moment I rose I wiped the water from my face, strapped on my goggles, and took off toward the deep end -– to be swamped within seconds by the swim-capped middle-aged women on either side of me as they splashed past in unison.

Their wake left me floundering in a choppy sea, and by the end of lap one I had small craft warnings going off in my brain. Seizing any excuse for a break, I slogged  back to the shallows and grabbed my water bottle, then watched in dread as my neighbors, clearly friends who had decided to work out together, executed time trials in tandem, arms and legs cutting through the water with perfect precision, churning up the water around them.

Drink over, I spent the next several minutes flailing between them, my velocity in the storm-tossed water approaching that of a half-squashed beetle. Meanwhile, the ladies pushed out lap after lap of Butterfly. If you’re not familiar with this awkward stroke, let me give you a little history: Despite what the link above claims, it was actually invented in the sixteenth century as a form of torture, and is now employed by swimming snobs and fully appreciated only by those who have mastered it. (For the record, the latter also applies to complex guitar solos and making pastry from scratch.)

The situation deteriorated around the eighth lap, when I helped myself to a flimsy kickboard for a few rounds. How is it possible to grab a sturdy, self-respecting kickboard actually capable of keeping my front half afloat any day except the very one when my ego -– and my ability to keep from asphyxiating on chlorine and water -– are most on the line? Even without the continuous shower from the ladies in the next lanes, the kicking would not have lasted long. At least with freestyle and breaststroke, I could spend most of my time with my head in the water, hiding my shame.

Around the fourteenth lap I began to take on water, and soon had a puddle the size of a baby pool sloshing inside my goggles. My arms, which have no respect for authority, began to tire despite my threats, and when I had thrashed once more to the deep end of the lane I clung to the wall and turned to decipher the clock on the side of the pool house through the foggy lenses. I nearly cheered. Three minutes to go.

Which is when the Wonder Twins decided they’d had enough of swimming and headed for the locker room. Now, if only I’d gotten everything else in line — the goggles, the kickboard, my arms — I would have had a very nice 180 seconds of swimming ahead of me.