Look, up in the sky …

Something I get questions about is why so many Superman references associated with my fitness efforts. I have a Superman workout shirt, I often do the rowing machine to the music from the original Christopher Reeve Superman movie, and I track my progress in a small, hardbound notebook with Superman on the cover. So, why Superman? That’s a simple question with a complicated answer.

My brother Gary Jr and I, June 13, 1997. It seems I always had one of those shirts.

If you’ve read the other posts on this blog, you’ll know that I had a tough time as a kid because of my health. A set of birth defects left me always feeling like an outsider and people treated me like I was disabled or different. There were a great many things about myself I had to keep tightly hidden because of how people would treat me if they’d known.

And, as we know, children can be cruel and unforgiving; rough and mean and, given how much I was tortured and bullied with what little bit they knew about my physical issues, I doubt I would have survived psychologically had they known everything. It was awful. So, I would retreat and only show the rest of the world one side of me. There was always another side, several actually, waiting to get out, to let me be who I was always meant to be.

In the Superman storyline, there’s a point where Clark can finally “be” who he is meant to, or as he put it once in the TV series, “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” “Superman is what I can do. Clark is who I am. ” I always related to that, more so as I got older and saw my “differences” as strengths rather than weaknesses. In that, my Superman shirts help me to feel more empowered like I really can do all of these things I’m trying to do to better my health, life, and future. It might seem silly, especially at my age, but it’s helping me and seems to be inspiring others as well.

Unrelated to all of this, is how the Man of Steel relates to my swimming. In the water, I use the Superman reference only to myself. When I started swimming in January, I came to a sudden and unmistakable realization – I really didn’t know how to swim very well at all. I did something that could only laughably be called a modified breast stroke. I did a breaststroke movement with my arms and kicked like a wildman with my legs, straight up and down, like you normally would in freestyle swimming.

After some coaching and a lot, and I mean a lot, of practice, I finally have a passable freestyle form that works for me. I was still having trouble with the “take off,” though. Pushing off from the wall to start each lap seemed cumbersome and then when I was moving through the water, it was hard to keep my head down in between breaths. On top of that was the “form” I needed to hold as I pushed away from the wall, where should my arms be at first? Straight out in front, to one side, what?

Then one day my friend Julie was watching what I was doing in the pool and saw my struggle. Julie knows swimming and more importantly she knows me. So she said four words that changed my entire view of it, “up, up, and away.” That was it, I had it. I pushed away from the wall with my feet in a sort of Superman form, one hand outstretched reaching forward in the first stroke, the other sort of tucked under, ready to be brought over into the next. I was “flying” at last.

Then, to keep my head down I thought of what it must be like for Superman as he flies over Metropolis, surveying the city below for trouble. I just looked at the floor of the pool as I swam, imagining a city below, with buildings and lights and traffic. That helped me keep my head down and I just roll over and pop my face out to breathe. Problem solved (well, not exactly, but it was a lot better).

There is more to all of this, but you get the gist. It’s likely you’ll see more Superman references as I move forward in this ongoing journey to boldly go where I could never even have imagined going before. Up, up, and away!

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