My Chronicle column this month is about swimming.
Summer's Over But it's Still a Great Time to Swim, The Chronicle, 4 March 2014
In almost every Tim Winton novel, there comes a point where the main character has to escape the problems of life, and dives into the water for a swim. The strokes come painfully at first, but after a while, the characters find a rhythm. By the time they leave the water, they’re physically tired and emotionally cleansed.
While my troubles are a good deal easier to solve than Winton’s characters, I can’t help identify with his love of the water. Few things mark summer for me like diving into the crisp calm of a pool on a scorchingly hot day. There’s a sense of leaving the heat behind, and allowing the water to envelop you. Whether you’re a mellow breaststroker, a furious butterflier, or a plodding freestyler, the discipline of a good swim is a rare delight.
Unlike my friend Chris, who can happily start the day with a 5 kilometre swim, my time in the water is restricted to a couple of dozen laps. But as a way of staying fit through summer, it beats sweltering runs. And there’s something beautifully egalitarian in a sport that doesn’t need any more equipment than a pair of togs and a set of goggles.
Canberra is fortunate to have a suite of good pools. They range from the older ones in Woden, Dickson and Civic to newer structures at the AIS and Belconnen. In Forde, a purpose-built centre caters to learn-to-swim classes. In Gungahlin, a new 50 metre pool will open in May 2014. Personally, I love the older ones, like Dickson pool. It opened in the 1960s, a decade that also saw the inauguration of the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Pool in Glen Iris, Victoria. If there’s another nation that would honour a drowned Prime Minister with a swimming pool, I’d like to know about it.
For my three boys, swimming is a marker of their confidence. I love their sense of pride when they first manage to swim a metre on their own, when they jump in from the side without holding your hands, and when they decide they can make it without the foam noodle. I want them to respect the water, to learn to master it, but also to delight in the freedom of water to escape the heat, and the satisfying ache in your arms afterwards.
Summer may be over, but there’s no reason the swimming has to stop. If you’d like to improve your swimming, my team and I have put together a list of resources. For those thinking about lessons, it includes contact details of swimming schools – including for adults who’ve never swum before. For casual swimmers, we’ve listed local pools and their opening hours. And for people like Chris who are keen to test their limits, we’ve compiled details of local swim squads.
Here's the list. Hope to see you at the pool.
Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and his website is www.andrewleigh.com.
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