The other morning I was swimming my laps at Meadowbrook. Almost no one was there. Only two others were in the deep, outdoor lanes that are my choice when the North Baltimore Aquatic Club swimmers and Meadowbrook Tomatoes are not racing or practicing with their dedicated coaches.
I even had my very favorite lane, the farthest to the east, under the shade of trees until well after 10 a.m. every morning. The light in that lane is not too bright or the glare too strong. It's a perfect place to swim early and meet the day.
The water was cool, thanks to a recent competition. The water temperature for meets is dictated by strict rules. At the most recent meet, some pool water, warmed by 100-plus degree temperatures, was removed. Fresh, cool water was pumped in, so water temperatures could remain below the 81 degree-maximum required for competitors' hearts and health.
We lap swimmers have luxuriated in that cool water ever since. We have also been pepped up by Olympic excitement at the home pool of Michael Phelps, who trains at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, based at Meadowbrook. Televisions there have been tuned in since coverage began. Racing suits and tee shirts emblazoned with London and caps with NBAC, London 2012 are strung like banners. The American and Olympic flags are both hung on the walls.
Cameras and microphones on dollies have become so routine that they go unnoticed. Ditto black cars with drivers in black suits. (That seems to be the transportation mode for the international media.)
The only thing missing lately at Meadowbrook has been Phelps himself. Missing has been the long-backed kid, who churned the water Sept. 11, when NBAC practice was cancelled and that one competitor came anyway. He is not there now, churning the water and creating a wake that can make this neighboring lap swimmer squeamish.
All of the times I have seen him before and after that Sept. 11 moment blur. At Meadowbrook, except when he is being celebrated, he blends in with squadrons of other swimmers, save for his size, his stroke and his wake. Poolside, everyone has tried over the years to give him space to be a kid, to be left alone to grow up among the schools of guppies diving into water, churning back and forth, running laps around the picnic grounds, lying on mats for pushups, chinning up on the bars, swatting each other with towels, and using goggles as sling shots.
Every year, Michael Phelps has grown into a bigger and bigger fish, until he became the biggest of the Olympic champions the NBAC has produced, and most recently the biggest fish of ALL Olympic champions ever.
As I swam my laps that recent morning, I could not contemplate one day of even the youngest competitors' drills, the hundreds of routinely swum laps, let alone Phelps' level of training. Thirty is the top number of laps I can stand at once before boredom pulls me out of the water. Likely, writing word after word would bore many swimmers. We are all called to different tasks.
Swimming called Michael Phelps. Swimmers and viewers around the world have been mesmerized by his wingspread, his stroke, speed and success. How absurd it was when commentators put Olympic silver medals into the loser category. Little did they know what the big fish would do later that week.
His interest in other swimmers, from America and around the world, at these Olympics has shown that the big fish is growing even bigger, expanding his focus.
Stroking up the far lane in my baggy purple Speedo and scummy goggles, I spotted a small boy in tight, long racing trunks wiggle up the sidewalk beside me. His arms and legs were long, his hips narrow. His long torso had a striking similarity to that big fish we hope to see soon again swimming the waters of Meadowbrook.