My hands were getting chewed up by the lane markers because I had to share a lane and the wide stroke meant I was always scraping the buoys. In order to upgrade my game, I had to try the front crawl. When I was in Denver, I tried a few strokes, but my shoulder wouldn't support it and the breathing was nearly impossible. Now with a month of swimming in me, I turned on my belly and started a series of long, extended freestyle pulls. At Nicolet high school one of my team mates, Cary Hiller, had the most beautiful free style stroke I'd ever seen. I saw him swim at an alumni event about ten years ago and that perfect stroke was still as good as ever: Elbow high, fingers barely missing the surface of the water and a clean entry point far above his head. Cary seemed to effortlessly pass everyone in the pool - and his name was littered all over the Nicolet "boards", the banners listing the top 5 performances in each event. I put Cary Hiller's stroke in my head and tried to copy every single segement of it.
For two weeks I just did the first and last 50 meters (2 lengths) of each 500 using freestyle. By the time the outdoor pool closed, I was able to do nearly half the workout using freestyle. The closing of the outdoor pool also eliminated dozens of swimmers who packed it in for the year. When I moved into the 50-meter 8-lane indoor pool, I always had a lane to myself. Before I knew it the scratches on my hands disappeared and within a month of moving inside, I had swum my first full 1000-yard freestyle.
The elementary back stroke was a thing of the past. My shoulder felt good, my weight was down and the workouts had gone from hour-long torture sessions to mildly palatable experiences. I started getting a reputation around the pool, not as the only disabled swimmer, but as the guy who did big belly flops out of his chair when he entered the pool every day. I started having fun with the lifeguards and the pool staff. There is a servicable piano in one of the class rooms outside the pool, so I could get in a practice session every day after my workout. For the first time in my life, swimming had become... tolerable. I no longer hated swimming. Granted there were days things went poorly and I was dying to be back on my bicycle. But the sheer torture of the first three months had passed.
And then things got weird.
Which brings us to Pool #4: Albany Community Pool - Albany, Ore.