By PAUL MCELROY
Three days a week I give myself over to Brenda, the comely drill sergeant at the Rainbow Road swimming pool. Aquafit. Or to be accurate, AquaLite, synchronized swimming for the chronologically challenged.
At 9:30 on any Monday, Wednesday or Friday there are so many replacement hips and knees in the pool that the lifeguards carry magnets instead of lifebelts. You can read the disquiet on their young faces as they try to figure out what will happen if TWO of us need the defibrillator at the same time.
I’ve been considering a tattoo. Nothing too flamboyant. “This Way Up” across my chest and “If You Can Read This I Am Probably Drowning” on my shoulders. I know the lifeguards are vigilant (and probably quite keen to get a bit of serious rescuing under their belts after much standing around looking young), but I don’t want them thinking I’m simply taking an elderly nap on the surface of the pool or that mouth-to-mouth is barely worth the effort at my time of life. I may even have a (+) and (-) inked on either side of my chest so they know where to attach the defibrillator paddles.
Back in the pool, Brenda’s cri de guerre is “Listen to your body!” Listen to your body? If I’d listened to mine I would have stayed in bed. One thing I’ve learned about growing old is that at a certain point your body begins to make more noises than your car.
Notwithstanding, I leave my clothes and dignity on a hook in the changing room and take exercise for the sake of my heart and my doctor. But not too vigorously. I have no intention of meeting my maker in ill-fitting checkered shorts and rubber shoes.
I wish I could say there was some grace to it, but out there in the tepid water my body bits move to Elvis, Abba and Beyoncé with a will of their own. The unhappy truth is that I am to dance what Donald Trump is to metaphysics. Buses have more ballet in them, but the great virtue of Aquafit — unlike other forms of self-inflicted misery like Catholic flagellation and aerobics — is that most of the ugly business is hidden. I comfort myself with the thought that to a casual observer on the side of the pool, there gyrates the body of a young Adonis just below the surface. Wishful thinking. If the Japanese whaling fleet had access to the Rainbow Road Pool, I’d be hanging from a hook in a Tokyo fish market.
Every now and then, Brenda will invite us to “Shimmy down!”, which is not a manoeuvre I’m especially familiar with, but since my body mostly quivers anyway, I guess it kind of meets the requirement. Shimmy, shake, quake, vibrate are all the same to me and all register about the same on the Richter scale.
On the very rare occasions that she takes a day off, her place at the loudhailer is taken by an understudy. They are whippersnappers, bless their little cotton “Instructor” vests, who are inclined to forget that most of us in the pool are older than their grannies. Talk about stress! After five minutes of frantic jumping and jiggling, my state-of-the-art Wi-Fi pacemaker is sending SOS calls to a cardiologist in Victoria, there are buzzards circling the pool and the air ambulance is on the carpark.
It’s not so much that the young instructors ask more of us, it is more to do with not wanting to appear totally dilapidated to an uber-healthy kid who can probably swim several lengths of the pool without resuscitation and most likely regards it as a little miracle that we’re in the water without our walkers.
But my goodness, that feeling of well-being when the hour is up and you finally get to drag your beaten-up old body to the changing room. Self-righteous doesn’t cover it. You cannot imagine the smug satisfaction of telling your doctor: “Yes, actually, I DO take exercise! Three times a week. At the pool. In the water,” as though it were an Olympic event. Which it should be.
If synchronized diving and rhythmic gymnastics are Olympic sports, then surely an hour gyrating to Abba in soggy shorts is also worth a place on the rostrum. Bring on the sequins and lip gloss.
Editor’s note: After demands from our readers following two recent guest column submissions, retired journalist and Salt Spring resident Paul McElroy has agreed to grace our pages on a regular monthly basis with his “And Another Thing . . . .” column. Paul retired to Salt Spring six years ago after 18 years as a journalist with the Daily Mirror, London. Before that he worked for The Province, The Vancouver Sun, The Sydney Sun and The London Daily Express.