Not in My Lane

Image result for old woman swimming laps

I stood on the pool deck, without my glasses, squinting at the four lanes marked leisure, slow, medium, and fast. A man powered through the water in the fast section, performed a swimmer’s flip at the deep end wall, and motored back in a long, smooth front crawl.

“Nope, definitely not going in that lane,” I thought, slightly intimidated.

A third of the pool was apportioned to the leisure lane where a half dozen people clutched swim noodles or puddled slowly in the deep end or hung on to the side wall kicking their legs. One person took a few strokes, stopped, looked around and continued on, leisurely.

On a previous occasion I’d tried to swim lengths in that section but had been booted out by a lifeguard. Embarrassed, I checked with the pool staff to find out what defined lane speeds. The main thing, they said, is the leisure section is reserved for non-swimmers. I was welcome to choose any other lane.

The medium and fast lanes were about 1/6th the pool size and the medium lane already had five people swimming lengths in a space that was barely two-people wide. I dropped into the slow lane, the same size as the leisure section, pulled my goggles over my eyes and pushed off to start my slow warm-up front crawl.

I was not the fastest swimmer in the slow lane. That honour went to two speedier Speedo clad men.

After completing two lengths, I stopped at the shallow end to adjust my leaking goggles. Two feet away, a large man bellowed “Why you not read sign?” He jabbed a finger at the “slow” sign.


He roared the same thing again. Beside him, on the leisure side of the lane rope, another man smirked and nodded vigourously.

For a third time the man yelled “Read sign.” His buddy grinned, appearing to enjoy the confrontation and me being put in my place. While I scowled at the yeller, several swimmers moved around us and continued their laps, steadily breaststroking, crawling, backstroking. Clearly I was being made an example. He was using his loud voice and his size to instruct me and everyone around us.

“Read sign,” he shouted again.

Slow and loud, I said “It’s too crowded. It’s not safe.”

I pulled the goggles over my eyes and stared at him and his sidekick. I hoped my eyes were bugging out making me look crazed and dangerous. I hesitated for a moment, waiting for a lifeguard to tap me on the shoulder and tell me to move to another lane.

“Pfft,” he puffed and waved his hands as though pushing me out of the way.

Another steady swimmer eddied around us and  thrust off the wall.

“Pfft,” I huffed back.

I checked the water in front of me and shoved myself into the lane. I adjusted my speed so I wouldn’t collide with the person ahead. I concentrated on pulling my arms through the water, kicking my legs and feet, making small splashes, and turning my head to the left for breath, taking as much space as I needed to swim.

My heart thumped, not from exertion but anger. Did he single me out because I was a woman? There were an equal number of men and women swimming. He only confronted me.

At the deep end I stopped to locate him. Would he deliberately bump into me? Would he yell at me again? Would he enlist a lifeguard to shunt me into the overcrowded medium lane? When I returned to the shallow end, there he was still slouched against the wall glaring at me.

“Is that how you treat women where you come from?” I thought.

And then I felt ill. Reflexively, I’d “othered” him. How could I think that? His accent didn’t make him an asshole. He was a bully, plain and simple. A name-caller. A space-claimer. Get out of my way because I told you to. He didn’t have the guts to confront a man so he found a grey-haired woman he thought he could scare into her place. I’d met bullies before. 99% of them were Canadian, as he probably was – accent or not.

I swam on while he clung to the shallow end wall.

My reflexive thought has been troubling me since. Where did it come from? More importantly, how do I get rid of it?


39 thoughts on “Not in My Lane

  1. Considering how women are treated in so many places of the world, it was probably a legit thought. I’m just grateful that there was never anything small about me. (I knooow. Not the point of your post. This is just my first spontaneous reaction. Then I’d tell you that your reasoning was correct. The point is to be rid of such thoughts.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Susanne, thank you for writing about what happened in your uniquely descriptive way, but also reflecting on your thoughts and emotions in those minutes and sharing them with us. I think it is important for us to recognize ways in which we internalize….I don’t know what to call it, “social prejudices”?….Because we do carry around some of that junk regardless of whether we ever believe it, speak it, or act it out. Being treated rudely for no reason churns it up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your insight, Leslie, and think “social prejudices” is a good name for that unconscious junk we lug around and that burbles up in times of stress. So disconcerting, though, when it happens.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. First off you handled yourself well Sue. The guy was a jerk as far as I’m concerned and as for your reaction Sue your human and enlightened enough to have caught yourself and yes no one is 100% without prejudice. As for swimming in pools, not my thing, don’t like the crowds or the chlorine and if you read the statistics on how much people urinate in pools….. enough said.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank goodness for chlorine to reduce the risk of pee. I reckon its no more harmful than the air in a big city. I love swimming and always feel fantastic after 20 minutes of solid laps like someone put soda water in my blood. I swam in Meech Lake on Sunday but there was a lot of wind and the water was choppy so I didn’t last long. I’m a flat water swimmer for sure.


  4. Pools are remarkably hostile areas during lane swimming. I’ve seen this kind of behaviour from both men and women. The passive-aggressive ones don’t even bother talking to you. They just literally try to swim right over you or deliberately get in your way, flailing an arm or leg to hit you, or otherwise make your swim awkward.

    Yeah – I think he confronted you because you were perceived as being an easy target, however I don’t think your random thought in a moment of anger – which was left unexpressed – makes you a bad person or a closet racist. The fact that the thought gave you pause is evidence that you aren’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I was swimming I really thought he might be one of those passive-aggressive types who’d wack me with his arm as he swam by. I don’t think I’m a closet racist, either but was stunned by how fast and unbidden the thought arrived. Gave me pause, that’s for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. First of all, your pool sounds like a very stressful environment to swim in! And what a horrible man – I would be fuming about the experience for a long time. But it’s good that you recognised what was in your reaction – I think we all have unconscious prejudices but being able to recognise them is the first step in addressing them.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’d never thought of the pool as stressful. Usually people are pretty accommodating and we all adjust our speeds as best we can so everyone can get their exercise. I went swimming in a lake today which was oddly stressful because once out in the deep water, w/out my glasses, the shore is fuzzy and I lose the sense of how far I am. I love the freshwater but I prefer the boundaries of an indoor pool.

      On reflection, I’m pleased I caught my thought but it is distressing that it was planted there – how? when?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m impressed in whole bunches of ways–one, that you like to swim and can do it well! But more, of course, that you are self-aware enough to recognize the flaw in your reaction. I do think we need to be vigilant about our own prejudices–and I don’t believe anyone who claims they are 100% free of them. At a time, though, when it seems many people are inflamed and quick to assign bad behavior to race or religion, we need level heads, level enough to say, “a jerk is a jerk, and nothing more.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think anyone is 100% free of prejudices, either though we may like to fool ourselves, as I did. When under pressure, it was shockingly easy to drop into that mode.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. This is not the point but wow! How awful to have to deal with that kind of power struggle when doing something as healthy and leisurely as swimming! It made me think of the difference between my experiences in public pools on either side of the Atlantic. The attitude over here (in France and also in Switzerland) in pretty laissez-faire. Which can be a good or bad thing — French pools are chaotic places and I’m not sure that lifeguards are very vigilant. But I can’t imagine anyone (from here or there) telling me off for swimming too fast or slow in a lane. As others have said, it is a natural human defense to ‘other-ize’ bullies or anyone who gets in our face. Keep breathing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, to be in France. I wish there was somewhere else close and convenient that I could swim so as to avoid the situation but there isn’t. I’ll have to gird my loins and my goggles and persist. Interestingly, we live in a neighbourhood with many Muslim families and the pool offers two times for women only swims. An option perhaps?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I almost never swim in summer, too busy, too much pressure. Bullies absolutely.
    You poor dear. He probably would have done that to ANY woman.
    My daughter is a lifeguard (and a competitive swimmer.) You might believe the stories she tells me — I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really love swimming and the rhythm of breathing and cutting through the water and the way my cells feel afterwards plumped up with oxygen. It feels great. But I don’t like feeling on edge wondering if that dink will be there waiting to confront me again.

      My daughter was also a lifeguard for a few years in high school and university. I believe.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You were clearly nice to two jerks. Bullies – Canadian or not Canadian – is apparently in fashion.
    I was stunned earlier today to be taken to task by a first cousin in Texas who made the mistake of forwarding a re-elect Trump article for me to forward to others. My response wasn’t very nice but wasn’t as rude as I could have been. There’s that.
    His response to me was that other countries had bullies for presidents and they got along just fine plus did I remember when the price of gasoline was almost $4 a gallon.
    Difficult to believe our DNA will be an excellent match on Ancestry.
    I felt deflated – but not defeated. And neither are you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You THINK your DNA is a match but has shocked quite a few families.

      I’m not defeated but I don’t think one should have to fight to get into a public pool to exercise. Good grief. Today we’re going to a lake for a swim, a 45 minute drive north, so I won’t have to deal with it but I’m going back Wednesday.

      Liked by 1 person

      • you go, girl !! I don’t think you will want to swim when you come to visit on the east coast. Also, there are jerks everywhere. They do come in all shapes and sizes. Recognizing our prejudices gives us an opportunity to deal with them. Keep swimming, I only float in my little pool 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        • Your pool sounds divine! We swam at Meech Lake today and it was gorgeous. The smell of pine trees in the air, Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion, children playing on the beach. Afterwards my skin felt like I’d been to a spa. Great day!


  10. The world has more than its share of miscreants, bullies, and other flavors of human detritus. The same can be said of flies and a host of other annoying and sometimes deadly critters. I see no problem with characterizing them as such. It has nothing to do with ethnicity or national origin. As asshole is an asshole; everything else is incidental.

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  11. I agree with Luanne. We need to be able to quickly make judgements, for our own protection. What you should be proud of is that you recognized you made the judgement (1), judged the judgement (2), found it faulty and moved on (3). That is what the majority doesn’t do. They stop at step 1. Congratulations, you are WOKE! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

        • I admire your ability to find compassion. I’m still working on that because I’m battling the will now to go back to the pool as a result of the episode. My combative side is staying I have every right – and reason – to go back but I know I’m going to be on edge every time I go.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I would be too Susanne. My ability came at a great personal cost and was purely selfish – it was the only way I could make peace with, and survive being married to someone who turned out to be mentally ill and reneged on his promise to seek help. If he didn’t die, I surely would of, from the high stress life I was forced to live.
            I hope you do go back to the pool and you do say something to rein this guy in. No matter what his issues are, that doesn’t give him the right to pick on anyone else.

            Liked by 1 person

  12. Excellent read. I recently had to remove a line about accent from one of my posts because upon reflection, it insinuated that the ethnicity of the person was the impetus for their behavior. Good that we can catch ourselves in the act, and that no one is immune no matter what their race. I agree with the previous comment that it starts as a tribal type survival mechanism instinct and from there we have to grow into a maturity that doesn’t read “patterns” into everything. And good for you to enjoy swimming so much you put up with crowded lanes! I’m not that motivated!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’d much rather swim in fresh water but I live in the Great White North. There’s really only 3-4 months when swimming outside is possible. And the pool is only a five minute walk whereas the nearest clean lake is a good 45 minute drive.

      i swallowed a lot of water when the thought popped into my head because I opened my mouth wide in surprise. I was obviously smug about my so-called “wokeness” up to that moment.


  13. Interesting point near the end. I applaud you taking yourself to task. Unfortunately, if we get rid of this human trait we will be unprotected. There are good reasons for the brain to operate in that fashion. It’s unfortunate when it hurts someone else. But our brains have to find patterns. Without that ability, we are lost. How do we keep the ability and lose the bigotry?
    Wow, you are a good swimmer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s not me in the picture, eh? I am a good swimmer, though out of practice due to various aches and pains but it is my favourite form of exercise.

      I wonder if the human brain’s insistence on seeing patterns prevents us from seeing beyond. I read a fascinating article in The Atlantic about tracking rapists and how the police insistence on looking for patterns in rapist behaviour frequently prevented them from detecting the culprits who were more often than not serial offenders acting on opportunity not a particular routine or type of victim.

      Here’s the link if you’re interested:


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