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A boomer, some fish, and an open lane

If you’re a baby boomer who looks for ways to exercise and stay fit, this story might resonate. It’s by Judy Abelove Shemtob of Scarsdale, New York, whose aching joints interfered with her exercise regimen and she went fishing around — literally — for a new way to get it done. She calls her story, “Make Way, All I Need is a Lane.”

The indoor pool steamed with tension. Heads outfitted in caps, goggles, snorkels, and earplugs plunged into still waters like sharks devouring carcasses. Large ventilation fans assaulted my ears.

Judy Abelove Shemtob

When my knees started killing me last January, I worried that next, my legs would buckle. Moving was critical, but regular workouts hurt more than helped. I swam outdoors summers minus chlorine fumes but when summer wound down, I vowed to give indoor pools a try.

Anticipating a leisurely swim, I arrived before dawn to make my way to the entrance area. Little did I know what I was getting into. When the doors opened at 6:00 am, exercise enthusiasts rushed down hallways like shoppers at discount stores on blockbuster sales days.

People wore coats over swimsuits without locking up belongings as they eyed the fastest paths to obtain lanes. No one stood aside or said, ”You first.”

Faster than lightning, swimmers sped ahead for 60 minutes. While I adjusted to cool temperatures, barracudas lunged forward and flipped over. What was I doing amidst all these overzealous fish who listened to books on tape and music on underwater iPods?

I meandered across two lanes in waist-deep water and stood beside Jiggler, who twisted his schnozzle with three fingers after he finished each lap.

“Can we share?” I asked.

“I like my own lane,” he said.

From the ladder a fish announced, “Swim down the middle.” Salmon slipped in and thrashed away, darting to the right and left.

My throat tightened. Two fierce fish passed from opposite directions. I felt like a helpless jellyfish in the wake of a powerful ship on the open sea.

“You may circle,” said the lifeguard.

Unable to follow two freestylers as they raced at a pace too fast for me, I swam around Hugger instead who clasped the pool’s edge, treaded water, and guided her noodle. When my goggles fogged, Jiggler and I met head-on at the other end.

“Didn’t see you. Sorry,” I said.

Over time, my chances to obtain a lane improved when I maneuvered around slower fish at later hours. I focused on avoiding collisions rather than on strengthening my body. I hated coming too close to fish in front of me. Worse though was the fear that a shark wouldn’t see my feet as he approached.

Eventually I encountered Jiggler, who said, “Let’s see if it works this time.”

When someone else offered a spot, I ducked under lane lines and crawled away breathing in a relaxed rhythm. As I reached the lane’s end, I switched into a backstroke and sunk into the calm waters.

After an eighteen-month initiation period, I shared a lane, circled, or had my own lane. The pool became a second home. Finding a lane was no longer an issue because I swam later in the day. My joints strengthened enough for me to resume walking on the treadmill and doing bicycling workouts after 30 minutes of daily laps.

As for diehard barracudas, make way. Shark’s on your tail!