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November 13, 2019

#YEG: Paul Matwychuk

Sink or Swim: Paul Matwychuk splashes into the deep end.

Illustration Byron Eggenschwiler

A couple of months ago, I stepped on the scale in the mailroom at my office and found out that I was 285 pounds. According to the website I consulted a few days later to learn my ideal body weight; a six-foot-five man like myself should be about 185 pounds.

Granted, our office scale is 15 years old and has never been calibrated. And that website is operated by a company that manufactures shady-looking off-brand diet pills. But none of that prevented the same irrational, panicky message from shrieking through my brain: Oh my god, oh my god, the Internet says I’m 100 pounds overweight!!! 

Soon, my rational self prevailed: No way are you 100 pounds overweight, it told me. Of course, it followed that up with, You are looking a little doughy these days, though. And so, as part of a less-than-intense self-designed early-middle-age program to whip myself into a slightly better shape, I decided to take up swimming.

I picked Bonnie Doon Leisure Centre‘s pool as my training location, mainly because it was the public pool closest to my house, but I don’t think I could have picked a place better suited to my needs. It’s rapidly becoming my favourite place in Edmonton.

I like that, like Edmonton, it’s invitingly un-flashy. There are fixtures a couple of decades out of date – a special locker with two quarters lodged in the coin slot in such a way that allows you to use it for free and notices about upcoming events written by hand in Magic Marker on construction paper.

I go there in the morning, when most of my fellow swimmers are senior citizens who bob along in front of me doing their ungainly sidestrokes. I may need to wear a nose plug to avoid inhaling water, and my swimming trunks might keep drifting inexorably down past my hipbones on account of a slack drawstring, but in their company, I can sometimes temporarily fool myself into feeling like an Olympian.

That is, until I enter the change room and I sheepishly apologize to a guy twice my age who has admonished me for getting water on the floor. Of the change room at a pool. I don’t understand his problem, but at least he didn’t call me fat.

Paul Matwychuk is the general manager of NeWest Press and the resident pop culture columnist for CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

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