– Knee to the Head

My favorite time to swim laps at our neighborhood pool is on Sunday afternoon when it  f.i.r.s.t  opens. For at least an hour, the pool is usually

still ….
calm ….

There are no lane ropes in place on a Sunday. In fact, lane ropes are only in the place on weekday morns during swim practice.  Like most neighborhood pools, the only boundaries are the sides and bottom of the pool.

So, the pool is basically a free-for-all with fannies and feet everywhere. If you’re close to the side of the pool, you’re likely to be jumped upon by a preschooler. If you’re in the middle, you’re likely to find a gaggle of girls giggling and talking or a raucous group of boys playing monkey in the middle.

With my attempt to strengthen my upper body, I usually add swimming to my list of exercise activities when summer rolls around. Our pool can be seen from my front porch. A quick jog up to the pool is a great warm up for a few laps. There is one thing I can count upon with surety : if I arrive at five ’til any hour, the pool will be empty of children and swimming laps will be fairly unobstructed. Every hour, on the hour, our guards take a ten minute rest break. It’s good for them and it’s good for the swimmers. Some summers, I have run up several times a day to swim for ten to fifteen minutes worth of laps at a time.

I have to admit that there was a time when pArT of the draw to run up  to the pool was a chance to sneak in a visit with my sweet Glory. She was a guard at our pool for a year or two. Oh, how I miss those days.

While training for the Mistletoe Triathlon back in 2009, I found myself in conversation with one of Glory’s rowing crew coaches, Julius. While we were talking about swimming, I invited him to our pool, if he found he needed a place to train for the first leg of the course. He could come as my guest and I was happy to extend that offer. Just so he was aware of our pool’s schedule, I told him about the times of day that had the least number of swimmers and how we have a ten minute break at the top of every hour. His reply struck me ….

“Oh, I’d rather swim when the pool is full,
because it’s more like swimming in the actual event.
You find yourself having to navigate through bodies
with arms and legs everywhere.
It’s a much more realistic practice.”

Of course it is.
That only makes sense.
Practice in a setting that is most like
the actual event.

You don’t practice swimming out of the water.
You work on your stroke and kick IN the water.
Wouldn’t it make sense to also train with people crowded around
like a school of herring
if that is the setting that you will be placed
at a time that you really want to do your best?

Like Jesus spoke in parables, paralleling the spiritual and physical worlds, God convicts and teaches me through similar daily events.


I thought of the spiritual/physical parallels to this idea. I thought about how this physical choice …. reflects my spiritual choices, as well. It reflects my choices in relationships with people and with my God.

I thought of my selfish, lazy heart. I want to do things the easy way. I want to travel the path that offers the least resistance. I don’t want to be kicked in face or elbowed in the head. I don’t want to be trampled on land or at sea. I want to practice where I am safe and out of harm’s way. I want the water to be calm and the threat of injury to be low.

And all this self-seeking of protection
trains me well
for smooth waters
with little chaos.

But, what happens when life is full of chaos … the kind that is unavoidable?
What do I do when I’m bumped and shoved in water
where I could take in a lung lobe full of water?
What do I do when others have prepared well in a proper setting …
by personal choice
or because they were simply THROWN into the water?
How will I fair
when I have chosen the route of  little resistance …
because it was easier
and less life threatening?

A triathlon is a competition. Some athletes want to come in first overall (Julius was 6th in his age group and 38th overall out of 350 competitors. Amazing!)  Some want to make the top ten. Some want to be the top of their age group. Some want to improve on their time. Some just want to finish without injury. But, most have some spirit of competition coursing through their veins.

Life is not a competition, but like athletics,
the more difficult the course,
the more you are strengthened
and the more you grow.

I still remember
that I was standing talking to Coach Julius when he spoke his reply to me.
I still remember the wisdom from this young man in his early 30’s
… a strong, wise competitor
and an excellent coach to my crew member daughter.
I stood there in surprised revelation.
I stood there and wondered
how many areas in my life
I walk through gingerly
so that I won’t be injured …
not realizing that all of this self-preservation
leaves me weak and unprepared
for an event down the road?

I thank God for this epiphany.
Oh, that I would be bold and make my choices
according to their strengthening power in the long run
rather than according to what is most safe at the moment.

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