Monday, April 1, 2013

Beginnings, Redux

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."
I felt it finally, again today: the feeling of running. The funny thing is, I wasn't running when I felt it; I was submerged in about four feet of chrorinated water as the rain fell from the gray clouds above me at 6:30 am. If I could describe it, I'd have to say that the feeling was something like happiness, but deeper and tied to the beat of my heart. It was also something I couldn't quite articulate or understand, then, in the middle of the set which required me to keep track of the yards as they accumulated in the laps which carried me back and forth and back again to where I'd started from. 

But I felt again after work today as I laced up the shoes and stepped outside into the lovely crepuscular light of flowering things and trees with birds chirping and the sky without a trace of the rain. And, this time I was, actually, running. I've started running again lately-- only 30 minutes a day-- but it feels good to be on my feet again. Or, rather, it feels right. And it struck me that this isn't about one sport over another; it's about beginnings. 

Ask anybody. Ask my partner, S. My mom. My boss. My coach. My friends. Those five people who read my blog. For the past two years, I have been having a hard and complicated struggle in my heart and it has something to do with swimming. I don’t mean the physical act of swimming: plunging into the pool at 6:30 am or the tug of the water and the breath to the left or right or straight and the way I sometimes imagine I’m really pulling myself along a thick and long rope in order to move my body poolside to poolside. 

Instead, it’s all the stuff that floats around the swimming:  my past life as an elite distance runner and the way there’s a few lanes between me and the “fast” swimmers and how I’ll never move laterally in the pool; only back and forth.  Other images: minuscule white bubbles that trail my fingertips or the flicker of feet of the person kicking in front of me in practice; the slight undulation of my body in the butterfly as it pulls itself along with the dramatic upsweep of both arms to a V; the endless sky of backstroke.

I’m not much of an open water swimmer, but there’s that, too, when I got over my fear of it. The lakes I’ve swam in and the way my partner S. would motor by my side in the dingy to make sure boats wouldn’t run me over as I swam from one shore to another. We’d go maybe a mile or two in Lake Tahoe right at dusk when the summer sun was low and golden, peeking through the evergreen boughs; sometimes the water would deepen, but since it was Tahoe, I could always see the bottom like Earth tinted blue. The absolute cold of the snow-melt water. The smell-- earthy, like a duck up close, and the fishy-slick of trout-- seeping into my hair and skin. 

Which leads me to the running; all those memories of running that pang in my heart and mind. The feel of my feet on earth and that odd weightlessness as though I was dancing with life itself. The trail dirt sticking to my calves; the sweat as evidence of the work of it. The "swimming" through the atmosphere and feeling it flow across the bridge of my nose as though I was some sort of warrior-woman; strong and vibrant. And that would take me back, farther, to that high school girl who became a state champion one season in the world framed by a round-ring 7-lanes wide and 400-meters long. The rubber smell of the tracks I ran on, around and around, and the way the coaches called me a "star." And then I became very ill and I thought my beginnings had ended only to start again, anew, ten years later when I was 26 years old and I ran-- and won-- my first marathon. As you can see, there are just so many layers bound up with too many parts and pieces of my life. It goes so far back; and yet, it’s recent. 

Two years ago, I started to believe that I'd never have another beginning in my life again. I'd never have another morning where I'd wake up and think "what if...?" and linger in the lovely possibility of a dream you feel with your entire body that you strive for, work for, want.

I'm so glad I've proven myself wrong. There are beginnings. There are always beginnings. Maybe it was the water itself that reminded me of this in the way that only water can: water which becomes cloud to become rain or snow only to fall back down to earth again as what it was, once. 

And so, I felt that beginning-ness again while standing on the white starting blocks at swim practice because I'm swimming in the Short Course Championships this coming Friday in the 1650 Free (the mile) and the 400 IM-- the latter, arguably the most difficult race in any swim meet and I have to work on my dives. How long has it been since I dove into the athletic life? Nearly two years. Two long years when I mourned the loss of my ability to run the way I did, once; two years when I believed all beginnings had, simply ended. 

But I have learned how to swim. To swim in all the ways one can.  I have joined a cycling club and seen the most beautiful areas of California by the power of my own legs. And, I am beginning to run again. Perhaps the lesson here-- after all that-- is simply beginnings do not end. To quote a song lyric from those long-ago high school days when I had "begun" my life: "All beginnings come from some other beginning's end." 

And here's to another one.

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