A Single Flower

IH35, 7:30 A.M.

“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change.” Buddha

Early Saturday afternoon, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Mopac–It’s Saturday folks, for Chrissakes! What are you all doing out here?–and I suddenly understand what Jesus meant by loving one another.

I had just picked up my race packet for tomorrow’s Cap2K Open Water Race, and decided I wanted to get a haircut. I don’t really care about my hair, but when it starts looking a little shaggy I’ll decide I need to cut it in case I run into an ex-girlfriend. I don’t know why it matters to me that I’ll look kept-up in case we meet; it has been a long time, and we’re never going to run into each other. But I’ll see pictures of her occasionally with her current boyfriend, and I guess he decides that he gets to relax on weekends, so he looks a little rough and isn’t always shaved in their pictures together. So I’m always shaved, and try and keep my hair trimmed. Is that weird?

Anyway, of course people are trying to enter this wall of automobiles from the on-ramps. It is intimidating, trying to merge in and join the flow, and if you live here long enough you can easily begin believing that you have to be hard and cold just to get through each day.

Sitting in my car, I was still absorbing what had happened during my packet pick-up. Let me preface by saying that I am not anything special as a swimmer. There is no reason for anyone to remember who I am. But Sandy Neilson, the woman who organizes the Cap2K every year with her husband Keith, had recognized me last year at the check in, visibly happy to see me back. She remembered my face, attached it to a name. I had come up to her at the end of the prior year’s race while she was still in full organizational mode during the awards ceremony, dealing with all the people and issues and handing out awards. “Sandy, thank you so much. You have made something special for me. This is amazing, so much work. Thank you.” She looked at me, stunned, and asked what my name was. You could feel something shift in the air, and I knew I had understood something I had never thought about before. I just didn’t know what.

Sandy on the chair, pre-race briefing

If you’ve ever loved a child, loved a parent, been in love, you understand already that there are different kinds of love, different degrees perhaps. I started loving fairly easily a few years ago–something just freed itself up inside me–but have learned that you can’t throw that stuff around willy-nilly. Love can get out of hand; and I knew I could not love everyone. I harbored very high standards for love.

This year, I told Sandy she looked good, but she told me she had been in a bad car accident since the last time I saw her, and hadn’t been the same since. “It’s the names mostly” she said, pointing to her head. “I can’t remember names.” We lose people, we are lost to people. But somehow, something remains.

“Conquer the angry one by not getting angry; conquer the wicked by goodness; conquer the stingy by generosity, and the liar by speaking the truth.” Buddha

So I’m sitting in this traffic, which is actually ok with me because I’m almost never in a hurry to get anywhere and my car is the only place I get to really listen to music. And I’m thinking about Sandy, wondering why we can’t help people. I’m in the right lane, where people are trying to enter the flow. You can feel the stress–“Look at the traffic! No one is going to let me in.” And so I paused, and let a car in, and understood instantly that I had fallen upon the easiest way to by kind, to help people–to love one another. It felt wonderful, an accomplishment ex nihilo.

That ex-girlfriend’s mom died recently, shortly after my own mother passed. I loved my mother the way a son does, but my mom was ready to go. It was the girlfriend’s mother’s time, too, but I still felt bad for her. I’m 60 now, she is too, and we each start to know a lot of people who deal with sadness, and loved ones dying, and the slow tapering off of life’s fullness.

I am about as Buddhist as I am Christian; let’s call me a student. Buddhism encourages non attachment, not so much to physical things, but in a spiritual sense. You have to let go of the idea of a perfect person, holding others to some impossible standard. You have to accept people for who they are unconditionally. Each and every individual person.

And so standing before Sandy today, and sitting in that traffic surrounded by total strangers, thinking about my mother, and getting my hair cut for a girl I will never see, I understood what Jesus meant about love.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The Current Carries Us All, Together

Before this morning’s race, I compared last year’s roster to this year’s, trying to see who I’d have to beat so that I could finally at least place in this year’s Cap2K. It is totally stupid that it matters to me: the entire swim is just a mass of anonymous swim caps and flailing arms, so you have no idea who is in front of you in the water or behind you. You just swim as hard as you can. But his name was Marty Richardson, and he’d beaten me by 5 seconds last year, and I was going to beat him this year.

It’s important to note that I’m talking about age-group competition: I am measuring myself against other swimmers my general age and gender. The actual winners of the race–generally 19-20 year olds–are out of the water, dry, and texting by the time I get out a quarter hour after them. This year I bumped up to the 60-64 men’s group. Yea!? My thinking is that you just have to be persistent. Eventually, no one is left to beat.

It’s a five minute walk down Redbud Isle after the briefing before you either jump in and swim the 350 yards out to the starting line, or get on a shuttle barge to take you out. I’m a confirmed shuttle barge man–I decided years ago, at the race’s finish, that I couldn’t have swum another yard, and was entirely grateful for not having added on another 350 at the beginning.

The water was “noticeably” colder this year. That means I noticed when I jumped off the barge that I could not inhale to breathe. Fortunately, I was in the water at precisely the five-minute warning horn, and had time to swim a few strokes and get my breathing under control. Also different this year, there was a strong current. But the current was pushing the mass of swimmers past the starting line, everyone out there just treading water, trying to breathe. I saw what was happening, and backstroked hard to stay behind the line, but found myself alone with only one other grumpy old lady who was yelling “stay behind the line, folks!” No one seemed to care, but they had at least 50 yards on us at the start. I am sure that Marty Richardson was in there, taking a 50 yard head start on me.

The swim itself was not hard. The Cap2K is perhaps the hardest thing I do physically each year, but not bad this time, thanks to that current carrying us all along, together. It takes a while to get your breathing and stroke under control, but from then on you just keep going until it’s over. This year was unusual because I’d occasionally have swimmers randomly crossing in front of me at acute angles to everyone else. I couldn’t figure out why, but it did break up the terror, sort of like climbing El Capitan and watching someone else falling past you from above to their death. “Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.”

When I got home, my wife told me all about her garage sale. She told me about the tree limbs she’d cut back–that needed to be done, and she’s a trooper. When she paused to inhale, I said “the swim was cool. I finally placed!” That is sort of hard for me to say, because “I placed” means “I did not win,” but the Cap2K is in it’s own category for me. I will never do better than simply completing this thing that I am not particularly good at. I just need to do it.

“How did that happen?” This took me a second to process, because as much as I like praise, I do not like to brag. “Normally, there are all these really old people finishing way before you–like forever before you ever show up. Was there some mistake?” She spent the rest of the day occasionally popping in, just to tell me how proud of me she was, but I would just smile and say “too late! You can’t un-say those words. You’re the star of my story about the swim, now!,” which she already knew and dreaded when she heard me typing away.

And at the awards ceremony, when they called my name, right after they called Marty Richardson, I knew I’d be back next year. The current had carried both Marty and I along together, still separated by those same 5 seconds, pulling us all along in the right direction.

UPDATE: The results are in, folks, and there’s good news and there’s bad news! First, I beat that bastard Marty Richardson by almost 2 minutes! And I swam the course, thanks to that current, at my fastest time ever, 7 minutes faster than last year. The bad news is that the guy who finished first absolutely creamed me, finishing 6 minutes in front of me and 14th overall, which is amazing.

  • Men 60-64
  • 1 Randy Rogers M 60 0:24:27.38
  • 2 George Schools M 60 0:30:34.24
  • 3 Marty Richardson M 62 0:32:20.10
  • Dwight Munk M 61 0:32:53.41
  • Paul Scripko M 62 0:41:38.71 0:42:11.69 Stephen Julian M 63 0:42:11.69 M

Prostate Cancer, Exercise, Cold Water, and Just Plain Old

Too much exercise may cause erectile dysfunction. Depends on the shorts.

As I was leaving to train at Barton Springs on my day off my wife said “Hey cowboy, don’t do too much, and remember that water is very cold.” My wife normally doesn’t give a shit what I do, so I asked for clarification. “Ahem. Um. Don’t take it personally, but you know when you workout too much, it sort of maybe causes circulation problems in other parts. Like, the parts you need to use when you get home today.” I didn’t think she was talking about mowing the grass.

As you know, I am getting ready to swim the Cap2K Open Water Race again (http://www.cap2k.com), in support of UsToo Intl (www.ustoo.org), a prostate cancer awareness and support organization. I had my prostate cancer scare several years ago–scary, because I was uninformed and suddenly faced with things spinning rapidly out of my control. Worse than worrying about death once the word “cancer” is introduced, you worry about never, ever again having an erection. A boner, hard-on, stiffy, tent pole, wood–none of that, ever again.

My wife was referring to my “circulation,” but privately I heard “my prostate.” Here, I would like to recommend to anyone wondering about a prostate cancer diagnosis to read “I Want My Prostate Back”
https://www.menshealth.com/health/a19540939/coping-with-prostate-cancer/ . This is an award-winning article that deals honestly with the aftermath of prostate cancer treatment, chiefly erectile dysfunction.

My wife told me once that if there was ever a question of breast cancer for her, she’d lop ’em off illico presto, no regrets. “I don’t need them for anything, and they’re not worth dying for.” Personally, I like women’s breasts a great deal, but I get her point. I would miss them, but I’d rather have her if it came down to a choice. But perhaps because a man’s self-identity depends on an erect penis, the situation is not the same once prostate cancer becomes a possibility. I think.

I wouldn’t find my wife any less of a woman without her breasts, or her uterus for that matter. It could be that–beyond simply feeling sorry for myself–I would feel guilty of cheating her out of something because of my own personal problem. Sex is giving. And if giving is good, isn’t giving the full variety of gifts even better? But then I realized that there are plenty of satisfied lesbian couples out there. Or am I missing something?

It is particularly irritating that so many possible causes of erectile dysfunction present themselves as a man ages. Ten years ago, if I came home from work and said “man, I am exhausted,” my wife would say “you do too much! Don’t work so hard.” Last night I got home and her response was “well, you’re not so young any more.” I am learning to never complain to her, but you can’t hide a missing erection. It is most definitely not the boner of a 24 year-old, but I like to think I am quite healthy and virile in a sort of studied, dignified way. That just means I’ve kept the weight down, exercise a lot, and still get excited by intelligent, strong, witty women who know what they’re about. Here, if you’re a normal woman who doesn’t really understand an ageing man, I suggest reading John Updike’s classic “The Disposable Rocket” https://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/477/the-disposable-rocket.

The doctor didn’t even check for prostate cancer my last physical. Everything seems to work correctly. And when I left to swim today, I didn’t change my plans one bit because of what the future might hold (and when I think about what I’d do as a younger man just for the mere possibility of sex . . . .) But at my age, finally, I’ve learned to never depend on someone else for my happiness, and so I swam. And then, because the day, and place, and world were all beautiful, I went for a run. What happens when I get home afterward is like trying to see beyond the horizon. But I am happy that the issue is up in the air still, not settled forever.

“You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went, you can curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go.” But not quite yet.

Make It A Masterpiece

“Be true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art.” John Wooden

I did not feel like swimming this morning. No one feels like swimming at 5:00 a.m.–ok, once I happily swam in the pre-dawn, but I was naked and drunk. But when my alarm went off this morning, and I looked at my phone and saw that so many friends had contributed to my pledge swim for prostate cancer awareness, I told myself “you need to do this.” Friends, you lift me up.

Honestly, it’s pretty cool to swim under the moon, alone except for one half-awake lifeguard

I have amazing friends (and family, who I think are cool enough to also consider “friends”). I have friends who live inspiring lives, and have shared some of it with me. Friends from Canada, Australia, and Africa have donated; friends from Colorado and Texas, of which the parts outside of my hometown in Austin are like another country. Thank you all so much. I am so proud to have you in my life.

All this training is a good thing, although I hope I have learned my lesson and will scale way back as soon as the race is over. I have blown my shoulder out post-race three years in a row, and I am going to need those things. But I would like to do “well” in the race, which right now means I would like to swim well enough to honor the sacrifice made by these donations. Twenty-five dollars, a hundred dollars–none of us has money we could not be using for something else. This matters. You matter.

I would just like everyone to know that, by your friendship, by your caring, you make a difference. I’m going to write something about prostate cancer soon, and I hope no one ever feels the desperation that kind of diagnosis can bring. But you made me want to wake up every morning and make the day a masterpiece worthy of your friendship.

Soft Water

Life is just a search for content; it is a story you are writing. When the story starts to get a little boring, it is the author’s fault. To paraphrase a friend, it is because the author chooses to write a boring story.

That is what got me out here this morning. I resisted going, because it would be easier to not get up early on my day off, to not swim in the cold water, to not turn blue. But I love to read a good story.

I am not a particularly good swimmer, but I have been told that my form is beautiful. Several times: the little old ladies in the frilled onesies doing their Watersize; a lifeguard; a couple of the old guys trying to work their way through heart disease or cancer or loss.

I ran into one of those guys this morning on my way to train for the Cap2K at Barton Springs. By some strange alignment, I run into Craig pretty much every time I train at the Townlake YMCA indoor pool, no matter what day or time. He’s in his 80’s, thin and tanned. He is one of those old people who always have this subtle smile on their face, beneath his still clear blue eyes. He is always alone, and I assume he has outlived friendships and loves. I tell myself the smile is because he has not stopped working on his story.

And so as I walked into Barton Springs, there was Craig walking out. We chatted a bit, surprised to run into each other, and then he told me that he was just there testing out his new wetsuit. He’s headed to Florida in May for a US Masters Open Water Championship race. You have to see this guy; he’s really old. He says he can’t take the cold anymore, so he won’t be swimming the Cap2K at the end of this month, and he thinks he needs a wetsuit even for Florida. He’s got that smile.

Me, I am a straight line in the water–a very, very straight line, textbook form, because that’s where I learned it: in a book. There are three phases to the crawl swim stroke: the “catch,” the “pull,” and “recovery.” For the catch, reach like you’re trying to grab a rung on a ladder just a little beyond your reach. The pull, you have to actually grab the water with your open palm, anchor your hand and pull yourself through. Throughout, your body needs to be perfectly horizontal, rolling onto your side when you pull, all in a effort to engender as little resistance to the water as possible. Water is resistance, and everything comes down to mastering resistance. I take it personally. I asked my wife once to watch me and see if she could figure out why people hesitated to share a lane with me, and she said “they’re afraid.”

But something happened today, maybe thanks to Craig, maybe not. I did not find the water terribly cold. I felt the resistance, took it personally, but relaxed and the water softened. It literally felt soft. It was a unique feeling, to be immersed in resistance, to feel it envelope you, but to accept that as the way of water. It made me smile.


What I will do for a coffee mug

It is on again. This will be my seventh Cap2K Open Water Swim Race since my first in 2012 (one of the mugs is missing in this pic because it was full of coffee, in my hand, as I took the picture). I did it the first time, if I recall correctly, because I had learned there was a distinct possibility that I had something wrong with my prostate (I didn’t), and somehow, as I was researching the issues, I came across this race here in town, and it all made perfect sense: “I have blood shooting out my ass; I should enter this race.” You need to know me to understand.

That is why I began, but that is not why I continued. Swimming can be very solitary, but within a week of training seriously I realized that it was worth doing because of the people I meet. I have met wonderful people, extraordinary people, and despite the weeks of getting up in the dark, and swimming in the cold, and shoulders hurting so much I was afraid to go to sleep because I would move them in my sleep, I am back for number seven. I am back for these people.

This will be my first year swimming in 60-64 year old category! This is a wonderful thing about age-group racing: you just have to live long enough, and eventually there is no competition. I didn’t even place last year in the 55-59 group, but the same course time in the 60+ group would pretty much have put me in first place. I don’t know why that matters. Again, you would have to know me, to understand why I do not know why that matters.

It is on. I swim a lot. But everything depends on those first 200 yards or so, that group-start out there in the middle of the river, surrounded by dozens of flailing arms and legs in that brown, cold water. If you get through that–if you are able to breath, and find a rhythm, find your stroke–you will make the rest. So tomorrow I am up in the dark and out in the freezing water at Barton Springs the remind my brain of what it must do so that my body can do this one more time.

There is so little time to know people, out there in the middle of the river. You just have to get through the hard part.

A Beautiful Idea


It’s hard to not feel stupid at the beginning of the Cap2k Open Water Swim.  I’m 59 years old, this water is really cold, it is early on a Sunday morning, and I am surrounded by people who are very good swimmers.  They don’t look like very good swimmers.  They have body fat.  That is why they are laughing and talking, while I am shivering.  Bobbing around out there at that imaginary start line between two giant buoys, surrounded by people very happy to be right where they are, right then.  It is a beautiful thing, to be surrounded by these laughing people.

Well, here I go again.  By the time you read this, it will all be over.  It’s a long river, but I only swim 2 kilometers of it, from Redbud Isle to the Rowing Dock by the Mopac Bridge.  I did it at first because blowing blood out my ass piqued my interest in prostate cancer (the race is a prostate cancer awareness and research fundraiser; see my post from 2012 https://georgeschools.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/swimming-with-my-prostate/).  I’ve swum it twice with my son Chris, back when he was able to use his legs.  His record slow finish–the cutoff time is one hour, but despite his legs cramping up and then going numb, he gutted it out, crossing the finish surrounded by those amazing support kayakers in 1:07–was the proudest I’ve ever been of him.  Finishing last, unable to stand, but unwilling to quit.  Fatherhood did not turn out as expected.Cap2k_finsh_2012_087 I’ve swum it with Dave Shook, who I served with on Embassy Duty in Barbados so long ago.11181734_10206198400066613_5302446038558257308_n  You are a fortunate man, to count friends across space and time who are still there for you.

I’ve swum it with a woman who loved me and suffered me, and one day forgave me when I couldn’t even forgive myself.  Smarter than me, clearer of purpose and thought, truly good, and she came all this way to freeze and choke in the river with me, just because it is a beautiful idea.

When I picked up my race packet this morning, Sandy Neilson, the race organizer, was visibly pleased to see me.  She couldn’t stop smiling, and at first I thought she was just stalling because she couldn’t remember my name, but then I thought for a moment that she was either going to cry or hug me so I said “it’s George.  George Schools.”  “I know, George,” she smiled.  “How many have you done?”  Number six, this one, looking forward to seven.

It is a pretty cool swim.  The start is always terrifying, bobbing around out there in the middle of the river, surrounded by so many people yet feeling so isolated, completely alone.  You cannot know what is in their hearts, but they are there, in the water, with you.  Just you in your little swimsuit, swimcap and goggles, all alone.  The first 250 yards or so determine whether you make it or quit, as you try to master your breathing and get into a rhythm. You are either able to breath amongst all those flailing arms and legs, or you literally cannot.

The rest of the swim is, in my case, simply endurance.  The pack thins out, you try and hold a straight line, and just hold it together until you make it to the finish dock.  Most years my entire body will contract as soon as I exit the water,


My 2013 finish

pulling me forward into a ball barely able to walk or stand.  Every year I will begin to shiver uncontrollably, violently, but gently warm by the sun and the surrounding finishers, all still so happy to be right there, right then.  No one else ever seems to be suffering in the least.  Last year, the adipose guys who had finished before me laughed when I came out blue, one saying with a smile “I bet you miss that body fat now!”  There is a picnic after the race in nearby Eiler’s Park.  It is pretty laid back, and honestly the food is sort of an afterthought, but I love each year to sit there in the grass, submerged in the feeling of friendship, almost family, surrounded by these strangers.  That is where I first met Sandy, who had worked so hard, and mothered us all through, and made me feel so strongly why you want to thank people like her.

I had to skip the picnic this year because I needed to jump immediately in the car and drive up to Dallas to visit actual family, which is a great treat for me.  But I hadn’t realized the deepest reason I love doing this race until my wife said “the picnic sucks anyway,” and I crumbled .   I don’t like to crumble.  “I don’t do it for the food,” I said.  “I love these wonderful strangers.”  You cannot always know what is in the heart.



Santosha and the Apple


  1. 1.
    a category of people or things having common characteristics.
    “this type of heather grows better in a drier habitat”
  2. 2.
    a person or thing symbolizing or exemplifying the ideal or defining characteristics of something.
    “she characterized his witty sayings as the type of modern wisdom”

You show up early at Barton Springs often enough, and you eventually realize you are becoming a type:  There are a lot of healthy old people.  They actually like to swim their laps.  There are usually a few younger guys (in their 30’s-40’s), always alone, but very natural and fast swimmers.  They don’t waste time, in and out.  A few triathletes, usually women, who really seem to take all the joy out of swimming.  They look like very dry sticks, but I honor their quantity of work and have compassion for them, for that day when they ask themselves “why?”

I was talking with Lou–“call me Lou, please.  Lou, from Long Island”–in the dressing room, which always reminds me of a Roman bath.roman bath  Lou is one of the healthy old people.  I thought “I hope I look sort of like him when I get old,” and then I realized he was about my age and reconsidered.  “I swim every day.  Swam all around Long Island.  But this is nice here.  You look like you swim a lot.  It’s great, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is great.  I’m getting ready for the Cap2K again.  I swim a lot of pool laps, which I enjoy, but once a week or so I come to Barton Springs to swim in cold water, water without nice straight lines to follow on the bottom, water closer to what I’ll race in.  I go for a run after, because it’s a beautiful place to run, and then usually come back and swim a little more.  And I always come away from it amazed at these wonderful strangers.  And cold.

I’ve read a lot lately about people up in the Arctic, people functioning at -40 degrees and happy for it.  It has caused me to think about what “cold” is.  If you’ve lived your entire life above the Arctic Circle, and don’t know what “hot” is, does “cold” even mean anything to you?  It is like Adam in the Garden, with no knowledge of good or evil, and no conflict between what you want to do and what you ought to do.  You have to be expelled from Eden to know sin.

And now, unexpectedly, I am not “cold.”  Oh, I shiver after the swim, and turn a little blue, and when I was finished this morning all the muscles on the right side of my body contracted together and stayed that way, but while I was in the water I was ok with that.

“So this is what cold feels like.”  Not “I am cold, and wish I was warm.”  I mean, I know what warm is; I’m not Adam in the pre-Apple Garden.  But once I let go of wanting to be warm, I discovered that cold can be a good place, an interesting place.  You just have to stop comparing it to someplace else.  I’m learning to be at peace with whatever circumstances I find myself in–santosha in Sanskrit–which is not the same as happiness, but it sure gets you closer.  You can be afraid, or happy, or heartbroken, but instead of wanting the fear to go away, or worrying that your happiness will not last forever, you gain the peace of discovering “so this is what heartbreak feels like.  I understand heartbreak, now.”

Despite being naked, I don’t suppose Adam knew “cold.”  He just wandered around the Garden with Eve, and was.  Unlike Adam, I could not swim in that water forever if I’d just follow the rules, because both hypothermia and exhaustion are very real physiological processes that have nothing to do with contentment.  But near the end of my swim, I fell into pace with another swimmer, one of those natural, fast types there alone, an all-business type of swimmer.  We weren’t really racing, but sometimes you just fall in sync with someone and it draws you both higher.  We finished together, got out of the water together, and stood there breathing in that morning air and bathing in that light you only get around tree-lined water.  Smiling, he said “this is wonderful,” to no one in particular, I think.


Moments of Perfection

cap“One minute was enough.  A person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.”  Tyler Durden, Fight Club

I just swam the fastest 50 of my life, and the beautiful thing about it was realizing the instant I’d finished it that this particular, perfect 50 was gone forever.  I loved it because it was ephemeral.

The clock said 32 seconds; ok, the clock said something less than 30 seconds, but that is not possible.  I did my usual warm-up, started my 50 splits, and as I headed down the pool thought “what’s going on here?”  Every breath is an opportunity to learn, and I was illuminated by the understanding that “training” is not just building endurance, or strength, or speed.  Training is building the ability to maintain technique.  Fifty-six years old, 41 of which I spent “training”, and I just got this.

Cap2K time again, but only because I think it’s a good idea to do things you dread.  If I don’t die of old age, it will be of hypothermia.  I miss my life in the water.

The  best thing about the Cap2K is getting ready for it.  You meet the most awesome people.  There were starting to be way too many awesome people in the YMCA Townlake indoor pool in the morning, so I decided to suck it up and start training in the outdoor pool at the SW YMCA.  The water is warm, but nobody wants to go outdoors and swim at 6 am, so I figured I’d have the pool pretty much to myself.  Because God frequently tests me, my first trip to the outdoor pool was frustrated by a lack of lifeguards–I was ready to swim,but without a 16-year old to watch over me I was obliged to content myself with a karate workout indoors.

The covered outdoor pool on my first disappointing day.

The covered outdoor pool on my first disappointing day.

I’m not one to make a stink, and having actually been a 16-year old myself, and raised two, I understand what might keep one of them from showing up at work at 5:30 on a cold morning.  Once.  So I hit that mother again a few days later–dream realized. 001I had the pool to myself, and went through three different lifeguards–watching over me, my angels.

All that’s really left to get ready for the Cap2K is working on those open water swims–no lane lines, no bottom, nothing to measure yourself against.  You can swim as much as you want in a pool, but if you’re not ready for that open water start, surrounded by a couple hundred pairs of flailing arms and legs, green water beneath, you are in for a difficult few minutes.  I put off swimming at Barton Springs as long as possible, but had no excuse on our cold, rainy Easter, so hit that ice bath for the first of my weekly “open water appreciation swims”.001There is not much I desire less to do than swim in Barton Springs.  As a booster of what used to be the “Austin lifestyle,” I will readily admit that many, many people swim in Barton Springs with no problem.  I am not one of them.  I am a deep, dark blue, almost purple, after swimming in Barton Springs.  Some of you may find this attractive, but for me it is uncomfortable and inconvenient.  But once I’d committed to swimming the Cap2K, I really couldn’t not swim there, because swimming the Cap2K unprepared would be way worse than swimming once a week at Barton Springs.

And that’s the amazing thing about the Cap2K once again:  here I was dreading the cold, the work, the inconvenience, but I came out of the water in love with my place in the scheme of things.  It’s a beautiful pool, surrounded by green and peace in the middle of a crazy, frenetically growing city.  I swam my laps, had the place pretty much to myself, and will even share with you a peek inside the men’s change area, reminiscent of Roman baths from an age long gone.003

It’s worth the effort, an attempt at perfection.. You have to work hard for it, and dread it at times, but it’s worth the effort. A moment is the most you can ever expect from perfection, but one minute is enough.

Why Not?

Middle Age is that perplexing time of life when we hear two voices calling us, one saying, ‘Why not?’ and the other, ‘Why bother?’
Sydney J. Harris


I asked the smartest person I know to give me three good reasons why I should not enter the Cap2K Open Water Swim (www.Cap2K.com) again this year. This friend amazes me every time I ask her something like this, instantly cutting right to the heart of the issue, which may not have had much to do with my actual question. But I am a wiser man in middle age than in my youth, and the reasonableness and maturity of her response simply reminded me that I am not as smart as her, and so I entered the race.

It took a lot of crazy organizational skills for me to do the race this year because of my screwed-up job, but I had trained a lot and was physically ready. Mentally, I was terrified of getting as cold as I had gotten in the race last year, which was a refreshing thought because I do not recall being scared of anything in a long time. I mentioned this to another smart person I know, Mike the ex-surfer guy I see in the weight room every morning (“John, Mike, Tom, Catherine and her Husband“).  Mike asked “what’s the worst that can happen?”  My response was that I could die from severe hypothermia, while Mike answered his own question reasonably enough with “you’d get out of the water.”  Mike does not know me well enough to understand that once I started the swim I would never get out before the finish, so that makes two times  I’ve asked people more reasonable, mature,  and intelligent than me for advice and disregarded it.  I really need to stop that.

Race morning I got to work early, totally wired and ready to make the day happen like Tom Cruise Mission Impossible clockwork.  Got everything set up, made sure the guys that were there were ready for the day, then jumped in the mini-van to make it to the starting area in time for the pre-race briefing.  My workplace is on a pretty busy street, and as I pulled out into traffic I was right on schedule and determined to make it happen.  Ahead, the first light turned red, my brain instantly said “red light/stop,” and I smoothly braked to a halt.  After several seconds I realized I was still about 150 yards from the stoplight, and decided I’d had enough coffee for the morning.

This is the third consecutive Cap2K I’ve competed in (“Swimming with my Prostate“).  I can’t say it has gotten any easier, but the familiarity is comforting.  I know what’s going to happen, know I just have to survive the first 5 minutes or so of the start, and know I’ll be glad when it’s over.  I don’t know swimmers as a social group all that well, but this is a really great group of people.  The Cap2K is also a fundraising event in support of prostate cancer research, and my involvement and new awareness of the overwhelming abundance of men and their families affected by prostate cancer has profoundly changed the way I look at people.  So many of these guys at the race are survivors, there with their families cheering them on.  I wouldn’t call it inspiring–more a realization that life can be difficult, but people find a way to go on and find happiness.

As in most of my events, the race itself is anticlimactic compared to the training, preparation and organization required to get there.  I had intended to swim out to the start line as a warm up this year, but at the last second realized that every year I arrive at the finish pretty much unable to swim another 10 feet, so why add an additional 350 yards at the beginning? “There’s no reward for that extra work,” said another traveller on the shuttle Barge of Shame out to the start.  As usual, the start is a struggle no matter how carefully you position yourself.  This part of the river is bordered by sheer cliffs on the southern bank, and just when I started to lose control amid the flailing arms and legs, I looked up to my right during a breath and saw two hawks soaring smoothly along the updrafts.  Don’t know why that should calm me, but the image stuck and I was alright after that.  There was a pretty big crowd this year, and it seemed like everyone was pulling to the left as I tried to pass them on their left.  Everyone.  I finally suspected that perhaps it was me who was pulling to the right, and things went better after that correction.  About two-thirds through the race I realized I had fairly open water in front of me, which either meant I was toward the front of the pack, way in the back, or totally lost.  I won’t know until later, because I just had time to finish the race, walk the two + miles back to my car, and return to my stupid job.  Missed the post race picnic, which I don’t normally care about too much before the race but miss greatly afterward when I realize what great people I’ve just been around.  I’m not social, just sentimental I suppose.

I’ll probably go through all this again next year.  I’m pretty proud to have jumped up one age group this year, and it’s always nice when young college girls say stuff like “I wish my granddad was in shape like you, sir.”  This swim always reminds me that life is a struggle, that it is supposed to be that way.  You can hate your job and quit it, or fight to make it bearable, but you can’t just hate it and continue to let it suck.  You could let the years inevitably march on, give up and say “what’s the point?” and let them fall away as though they somehow were not as valuable as those of your youth.  But that’s the amazing thing about being alive:  even when really bad things happen, you always have choices about how you will live your life, right up to the end, I suppose.

In Benjamin Button, a movie made for people bothered by getting old and full of stealable quotes, Captain Mike said “You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went. You could swear, curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go.”

But only at the end.

With your entry fee you get a cool coffee mug to remind you that you are eternal, and a plastic cup from Team Urology to remind you that you are not.

With your entry fee you get a cool coffee mug to remind you that you are eternal, and a plastic cup from Team Urology to remind you that you are not.