All summer long, I've stared out at Lake Washington and eyed swimmers and paddle boarders with envy. The water taunts, and I'm a thirsty pilgrim in the desert, licking my lips and imagining the cool liquid coating my dry throat. Except, I'm not thirsty, really. I'm just on crutches. And it's been one of my secret prayers and a semi-regular conversation with God, that the summer not end before I can slip this body into a lake, even one time, not to float around on a raft, but to swim free.
I miss my freedom, the little morsels of movement I've taken for granted all my life.
So yesterday, I'm at a big beautiful lake that I love in Bremerton, in the backyard of my friend's parents, and the sun is heating us up on the deck where we read. My two pals and I decide we're going to take the plunge and make our way down to the deck. I strip down to my pink polka dot bikini, the one I was supposed to wear on my honeymoon in Hawaii, and steady myself on one crutch and my boot down the wooden steps of the gently rocking dock. The boot comes off, and I'm gleefully down to my bare feet (another little something I don't take for granted anymore). I inch myself like an upright caterpillar to the end of the dock, dipping feet in the cool lake. My only goal is to get in the water with as little use of the legs as possible, and preferably, no kicking of the feet. I flip over onto my stomach and lower myself in, unable to stop myself from the kicking necessary to keep myself temporarily afloat. And then, I'm in - with two foam "noodles" buoyed beneath my hips and a mile-wide grin. My friends dive in right after me.
The water rewards us, both chilly and enticing, and we take off toward the other side. Naphtali with her breast stroke, Ruthie with her crawl stroke, and me with my arms-only stroke. We joke that we should swim the distance across - roughly three quarters of a mile - and I try to find a position that feels efficient. As my body glides somewhat awkwardly through the water I feel as free as the trout that swim in the depths of the lake. I don't know how far I can go, but the refreshing water engulfing my skin, the sensation of my upper body working in fluid motion and my core muscles engaging ever so slightly, combined with the breeze across the lake, an eagle swooping to my left, and my close friends on either side of me, I might as well be in heaven.
As we cut our paths through the water, we talk of doing the Seattle to Portland bike ride in a year or two, and I'm fantasizing of a way to still participate in the triathlon at this very lake come September. I know it won't happen, but this swim takes me one step closer to my dreams of returning to the activities I love. My arms are working hard, but I'm not wearing out yet. Pretty soon, we're near the rocky beach on the other side and we turn ourselves back, chuckling at the realization of our "joke". We stroke back strong, unhurried, relaxed, ending our nearly mile and a half swim with excited talk of hot showers. The joy of the swim stretches taut the muscles on my face and leaves my body a little wobbly with fatigue. It's absolutely glorious.
Back at my physical therapist's office today, he's pressing down on my ankle, manipulating around the scar, pulling my foot back and pushing it toward me. He has me stand up on bare feet, walking with one crutch for the first time with no boot. I wobble, apprehensive of the feel of body weight on this bare foot that hasn't born its full weight in three months. My balance is off, nearly nonexistent, and the pressure builds around my heel and ankle as the tendon stretches, just a little further. He has me step onto a stationary bicycle, slip these bare feet into pedals, and ride at 80 rpms for only five minutes, and I grunt softly but grin happy, as I did on the lake remembering how it felt to be free.