The Water is Wide: Relearning to Swim

Pug in Pool

“The water is wide, I cannot cross o’er, and neither have I wings to fly . . .”

Thus goes the old song that’s playing in my head as I swim at the Newport Aquatic Center Pool for the first time Friday night.

The blue water stretches out forever, and I know the lifeguard pacing around the edge of the pool can tell I’m a lousy swimmer. Two other swimmers, a teacher instructing a kid who already swims better than I can, have gone to the showers, so he has no one else to watch.

“Go away!” I think. But of course he is doing his job.

Swimming was always a rare treat in my family, mostly limited to our annual vacations to Lake Tahoe or Donner Lake. We didn’t have lessons, except for the required swimming unit in high school, most of which I managed to miss by being sick or on my period. I can get across a pool, and I can stay alive in the water, but I admit my strokes are wonky and I never mastered the breathing part.

I feel fairly competent in a motel pool, but this 25-yard pool, the kind of pool where serious swimmers compete, is a lot bigger and I keep running into the rubber lane dividers. Any second, I expect the lifeguard to blow a whistle and tell me to get out of the pool

In my quest in the wake of my father’s death to try new things and fill the hours no longer filled with caregiving and nightly phone calls, I have not only pierced my ears, but I have finally joined the rec center. Now I have access to a full gym, a variety of classes, the lap pool, an activity pool, and a hot tub.

It took me a few days to get here. I didn’t feel well. I just did my hair, I didn’t want to drive all the way into town. I needed a buddy to say, “Let’s go!” Finally on Friday night, with nothing else to do, I decided: I can go swimming.

I’m a worrier. Will the pool be crowded? Will I get in people’s way with my slow swimming? Will my new lock not unlock so I’m stuck wet with no dry clothes and no car keys? I said a prayer and went.

The pool is nearly empty. Having left my glasses in my locker, everything looks blurry. First decision: How will I get in? I sit on the edge and drop into the pool. Oops, not as deep as I expected. Stub my big toe. Shake it off. Swim. What stroke? Okay, okay, pretend this is a motel pool. Breast stroke. I know my face should be going into the water, but I’m not sure how to do that. It’s going to take a million strokes to get across this pool. I need to stop for a minute. Where did the floor go? How deep is it? Swim! Still swimming. God, it’s a long ways. Made it. Cling to the side and breathe.

How do people swim like machines, lap after lap after lap?

Switch to . . . side stroke. Does anybody do sidestroke? Never mind. Maybe an eighth of the way, I’m tired, switch to the other side, switch again to my back, make like a frog, float—can I float in the lap pool? Where is the end? Okay, okay. Back stroke. I can do back stroke.

I keep looking for the end of the pool, and it keeps not being there. I pass under blue and white flags, white ceiling, more flags, on and on. Bang. Ouch. There’s the end.

Okay, I have to try freestyle. That’s the one I see people doing lap after lap, so smooth, so fast. Stroke, stroke. Head out, head in, blow bubbles, glug, come up choking. I never really learned this right. I try it with my head out of the water. My back and neck protest. Back to breast stroke.

Stop watching me!

The water is wide . . .

I can’t do any more. I haul myself out of the lap pool and stagger to the hot pool. My left knee hurts. Pretend it doesn’t hurt. He’s watching you go down the steps. Ahh, the warm water feels good. Just let me sit here for a day or two.

This is a beautiful facility, replacing the funky old pool where the schedule was so filled with lessons and swim team practices that you could only swim laps at like 6 a.m. But this one is different. Opened in 2017, financed by a bond, it’s big, bright and modern. There’s room for everyone. The activity pool includes a meandering river with a current you can ride or fight. I try that, can’t figure out how to swim, but it’s fun.

It’s late. The lifeguard is impatient. Time to quit. To the showers! Like an actual jock. As if. I should have brought shampoo, soap and a brush. Wrapped in my towel, I hold my breath and turn the dial on my combination lock. 38 . . . please . . . it opens.

I dry and dress quickly. My arms and legs feel like overcooked pasta. But my new blue earrings, which I have to wear for two and a half more months to make the piercings permanent, look gorgeous.

Some of my friends take the water exercise class at noon. I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to swim. But now I have learned several things: I’m not as young as I used to be, not in as good a shape as I thought I was, and I need to learn to swim properly. I should probably sign up for lessons. Meanwhile, maybe I’ll try that water aerobics class. Or yoga.

I walk out of the locker room with my wet hair going in all directions. The guy at the desk nods. I nod back, so cool, hoping my spaghetti legs will get me to the car.

Did it!

It’s a start. As with my pierced ears, it’s late, but not too late.

For info on the Aquatic Center, visit

photo copyright Teerachat Aebwanawong – Thailand, courtesy stock photos
Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2019




Author: Sue Fagalde Lick

writer/musician California native, Oregon resident Author of Freelancing for Newspapers, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, Stories Grandma Never Told, Childless by Marriage, and Up Beaver Creek. Most recently, I have published two poetry chapbooks, Gravel Road Ahead and The Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic. I have published hundreds of articles, plus essays, fiction and poetry. I'm also pretty good at singing and playing guitar and piano.

3 thoughts on “The Water is Wide: Relearning to Swim”

  1. Excellent Sue! Love your writing; so real! I’m a life long swimmer but unfortunately cannot do lap swimming any longer. Not that I was very good at it to begin with! My endurance is not good so trying to be an athlete never worked for me. Keep trying though. They do give lessons even if your age is advanced!


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