My introduction to swimming pools began a long time ago in Reading, PA. My brother and sister and I grew up in a row home with a very small backyard, but it was big enough to accommodate an inflatable pool. My Nana, who lived just a few houses down the street from us, also had a blow-up pool. We eventually graduated to the real thing, as the East Reading Swimming Association featured an outdoor pool that was only a few blocks from our house. Neighborhood kids loved it, even though it was an odd size for racing (33-1/3 yards instead of 25 or 50 yards/meters). The faded color of these Kodak snaps shows how long ago they were taken.
Athletes know “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” as Jim McKay put it, and usually there’s more defeat than victory over the course of one’s career. So, here’s a page of thrill from my high school scrapbook. Manheim always gave us fits in the pool (as did Wilson, Governor Mifflin, and Hempfield), but I remember one special meet where we all came together and swam well as a team against the Blue Streaks.
What made this particular meet gratifying was that some of us swam events outside our speciality, which helped us patch together a surprise victory over our division rivals. Additional wins over the other contenders catapulted the Red Knights to a league championship that year, with many of us qualifying for states. It was a good season of hard work and personal bests.
In the “agony” department, I’ve already posted about breaking my arm at a the end of a 50-yard sprint in college. I could also post about various false starts, disqualifications, and losses over the years, along with that time I broke my toe during a swim meet at Lasalle, or got a black-and-blue eye during a water polo game at Lower Moreland. But we’ll just go with the thrill of victory today. This clipping from the Reading Eagle newspaper tells the story.
The very first concert I ever attended was Billy Joel at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. I don’t remember the exact year, but it was probably somewhere between his albums The Stranger and Glass Houses. A bunch of us Reading High swimmers drove together in an old beater and had a blast. The Spectrum is no longer there, but Joel is still going strong—at least on the concert circuit. (He hasn’t produced a studio album in over 20 years.) I have trouble picking a favorite song because the repertoire is so vast.
Beautifulballads include “She’s Got a Way,” “This Is the Time,” and “C’était Toi (You Were the One),” which I adored, in part because I was learning French when it came out. “Just the Way You Are” was always popular, but it’s a bit too lounge-lizardy for my taste. “Honesty” is lovely, and “She’s Always a Woman to Me” is hauntingly tender, even if somewhat wretched in verbo. “She’s Right on Time,” on the other hand, is evocative and hopeful.
Up-tempofavorites include “Uptown Girl,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” There’s plenty of crudeness across his collection (e.g., “Only the Good Die Young,” “Captain Jack,” etc.), but there’s much raw talent, energy, and passion, too. In many ways, his work is the musical embodiment of the human story—broken, beautiful, and always looking for the right chord.
Joel is best known for his songs “Piano Man” and “The Entertainer,” which is fitting because that’s exactly what he is—a piano man and an entertainer. In fact, I’ve always found his piano instrumental “Root Beer Rag” to be one his most entertaining pieces, though it never received the accolades it should have.
Enjoy a few Billy Joel songs, which always throw me back to the soundtrack of my earlier life.
As members of the WVU swim team, we would sacrifice our Christmas vacation to go on a 2-week training trip someplace on the globe that was warm and sunny. During my years in college, that included St. Croix (U.S. Virgin Islands) and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Those trips were like “boot camps for swimmers,” with every day featuring triple sessions. The first session was an early morning swim practice lasting two hours. The second involved weight training, calisthenics, plyometrics, and/or runs on the beach for about 90 minutes. The third was an evening swim practice lasting two more hours.
On Christmas Day they lightened up on us, mandating just one two-hour practice in the morning; then they gave us the rest of the day off. (Thanks for that.) I remember how dreadful and depressing it was to have to practice on Christmas morning!
Below are some snaps from the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center. Once a week all the teams who had gathered to train swarmed the pool for what they called “Fifty 50s.” It was only a 2500m parctice, but the lanes were crowded, and there wasn’t much time between sprints. Finding a place to dive safely was a challenge. The whole thing was exhausting and annoying, even for this sprinter.
Between sessions we hit the beach or went out on the town, and after the 14 days of agony, we enjoyed a trip to Disney World. The rest of the time we ate or slept.
My apologies for the fading, but these photos go all the way back. They are, in fact, the first pictures ever taken of me as a newly minted Valentino. I’m not aware of any photos that were taken prior to #1 and #2 below.
1. This picture is the first day in my new home. I was thirteen months old at the time, and fresh out of foster care. The blond curls have since given way to brown waves.
2. Jumping on the bed is a skill every little boy should master. Apparently I’m not too upset here that my new parents were acquiring photographic evidence of my crime. Maybe I’m accusing them of fake news.
3. Eight months later I had my first Christmas in the Valentino home. I adored my Nana (mom’s mom), who lived just four houses down the street from us. That allowed for many visits and lots of love shared between us.
4. I’m shown here with my older brother, Bob, who passed away far too young in 2004. Note the aluminum Christmas tree and color wheel in the background that I’ve written about recently on TNL. I seem more eager to open gifts than my brother.
I recently tweaked a few things at TNL and added a new landing page to help with navigation. The new page is called “Fun Stuff,” which is located here. It allows for quicker retrieval of four new subcategories. I found myself wanting to see all the “Throwback Thursday,” “Friday Fun,” and “Just between You and Meme” posts grouped together rather than intermixed in the blog feed, or even in the narrower “Fun Stuff” category. Here’s the gist of the new page:
Life can be hard sometimes, so we like to laugh here at This New Life whenever we can. As King Solomon once said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov 17:22). Things that make us chuckle usually come in posts that fall into one of four categories, which can be separated as follows:
I once told a student that most high schools don’t offer water polo as a sport because it’s too hard to get the horses out of the pool. When she said, “Really?” I replied, “Yes, and did you know the word ‘gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary?” She wasn’t too happy with me.
Her confusion was understandable, though, as water polo is largely unknown, despite the fact that it’s an Olympic sport. I can tell you firsthand, it’s exhausting. Players are constantly in motion, and you’re not allowed to touch the bottom of the pool, even if it’s shallow enough to do so. Fatigue sets in quickly. That’s why substitutions are made throughout the game, much like the line changes in hockey.
It’s a brutal sport, too. A lot happens under the water that the refs never see. That’s why you’re required to wear two swim suits and trim your nails for inspection before every match. It can get rough out there. I once took a shot during a co-ed league game and broke a girl’s nose doing it.
That’s not happening in the picture below. I’m only in 7th grade there and hadn’t hit my growth spurt yet. I wasn’t able to break anything with those arms, let alone somebody’s nose! Water polo was a great run-up to the swim season, so it helped keep us in shape.
All are invited to have a chuckle at my expense (for the fourth week in a row). This shot is from my sophomore year at West Virginia University. At a meet in Ohio at the end of the season, I swam 51 yards in a 50-yard race. Actually, I lunged at the wall as we always do to finish off a sprint, and I hyperextended my right arm. The timers had to pull me out of the water because I couldn’t get out myself. It was a little bit of embarrassment on top of a whole lot of pain.
Fortunately, we were close to the Cleveland Clinic, which had a top-tier sports health center for which they were well known. They casted me up quickly, gave me some good pain meds, and minimized any damage to the ulnar nerve. My arm was numb, and I was out of commission for a few weeks. So much for swimming not being a contact sport.
All are invited to have a chuckle at my expense (for the third week in a row). This is my freshman year as a Reading High Red Knight, making me 14 or 15 years old at the time. Notice I’m breathing to the left in the top picture. In the bottom picture I’m just catching my breath after the race. I’m loving those twig-size arms. And the bug-eyed goggles. 🙂