By Roberta Millstein
I started swimming with Davis Aquatic Masters, better known as DAM, shortly after I moved to Davis in 2007. I was thrilled to have coach-led sets and a group of people to train with – so much more fun, and ultimately much more productive, than trying to swim on one’s own.
I quickly fell into a routine and decided that, rather than constantly reciting to myself all the many physical and psychological benefits of swimming, I would just understand that swimming three times a week was A Thing That I Would Do. Period. Only the most serious of reasons would cause me to miss a workout. And I stuck with that. Travel, serious illness, a grad student’s exam that couldn’t be scheduled at any other time – those were about the only things that would cause me to miss a workout.
Until, of course, we finally started to realize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 16, DAM strongly recommended that seniors stop going to workouts. I watched several people leave sadly. It was an eerie, surreal practice. I remember I went home and said to my partner sadly, “I think that might have been my last DAM workout for a while.” And indeed, by the end of the day, DAM had sent out an email cancelling workouts for everyone. Even though the County and State official stay-at-home orders wouldn’t come for a few more days, that was really the beginning for me.
I quickly made a new vow – on the days and times that I would have swum, I would now use the stair stepper. It’s a workhorse of a thing that my partner bought used for me many years ago, and over time we’ve both used it on and off. Most recently, I’d stopped using it because of a knee injury, but I thought maybe my knee felt well enough to start again. I have rather a strange routine with the stair stepper – I listen to the same four playlists over and over, playlists that morphed from mixed tapes that I had made decades ago. Probably most people would have long ago tired of listening to the same music, but I find that it focuses me: these are the songs that I stair step to.
I also decided to try something I’d always been meaning to try: yoga. DAM sent around an email with a link to “Swimming Specific Yoga.” I figured I’d do that on most days when I wasn’t using the stair stepper. I added in a few dumbbell exercises afterward to keep my arms strong. I’m sure that’s some sort of yoga violation, but I’m not really aiming for authenticity here.
In retrospect, keeping my time schedule was exactly the right choice. It has kept me grounded, along with the usual morning and evening dog walks, weekly class and lab meetings, and local political meetings. I’ve not experienced the “I don’t know what day it is” or “I slept in until 11 AM” that others have reported. If anything, I’ve found myself too busy because I find it hard to be productive with so much looming uncertainty, so my to-do list has lengthened. But getting exercise is all the more important for that, not less important.
I tell myself that, much as I might like to think I am a water mammal, it is actually good for me to be getting a bit more land exercise, and that is no doubt true. I tell myself that this is an opportunity to work on some other muscles and skills, and that is also true. I’ve definitely enjoyed the yoga and find it relaxing and energizing, even as there are some things I can’t do. I try to be careful because I don’t want to get injured. My knee still isn’t quite right so I am taking it easy with the stair stepper too.
But it’s not the same as the cool, clear feeling of entering the water and feeling it glide over you. It’s not the same as the satisfaction of a hard workout that you only did because your teammates were there suffering through it with you. And no one is there asking where you’ve been if you missed a few workouts, or telling you about a trip they took or are about to take, or commiserating about coming back from an injury. Swimming, despite appearances, is actually quite a social sport. I miss my lanemates and hope that they are well. (The DAM coaches, for their part, are working very hard to make sure that we still feel connected).
The latest word is that DAM is going to try to re-start in some fashion on June 14, County regulations permitting. I imagine social distancing swimmer-style: fewer people in the pool at once, maybe with signups, maybe fewer hours per week? We shall see. I look forward to it no matter what form it takes.
 We should all be so lucky to have this be the worst of our problems.