My knees hurt.
Possibly it’s the early onset of arthritis, but more than likely it’s my past catching up with me. Training runs up and down Georgia’s hills…lunges and squats and kickboxing in the gym…century rides on the roadbike with crashes learning how not to unpeg from the pedals. My ultimate goal in life is to make it to my funerary urn with all my parts intact, as healthy as possible for organ donation.
Call me an optimist. I still have my appendix and adenoids and gallbladder and breasts and everything else my x chromosomes provide, even though menopause has rendered them superfluous. I feel like an accomplishment. And I really want to keep my God-given, lumpy-dumpy, creaky-sore, unlovely, original knees. Hey – they’re mine. After a half marathon and several 10k’s and umpteen miles cycling, I’ve earned the right to call them names. Or so I thought. Turns out I’ve bullied them far too long, and now I’m paying the price. My knees and I are going to have to come to a compromise so we can live together for the rest of my life. They hurt when I rise from a chair, they hurt when I descend the stairs or alight from my car, and kneeling on the floor…?
So here I am at the neighborhood pool. Triple digit temperatures have made it bathwater-warm; storms at night made it leafy. I’m wearing a buoyancy belt to remind me why I’m here: to fight the natural tendency to go horizontal and kick. Instead I repeat the water aerobics instructor’s words like a mantra inside my head: “Cup the hands, push the water, stay upright, cycle the legs.” It’s easy, and it’s not.
Running in a swimming pool is a bit like running in your dreams: you’re in slow motion but your heart’s pumping. You’re running from one end of the pool to the other and you’re going nowhere. The orthopedist says it’s good for my knees and better than a treadmill. My inner athlete says it’s a colossal waste of time. Then a young swimmer glides past – graceful as an eel, he slices through the water with splash and speed. Little pigtailed girls jump in and go under, mini mermaids in training. Fierce little Lost Boys whoop and run and belly flop off the edge. Mothers fuss; lifeguards whistle; teens flirt. Fresh sunblock scents the air. When did my play become work? When did exercise become this chore? When did I start bullying my knees and calling myself – gasp! – old?
We’ve reached an understanding, my knees and I. They’ll get the extra care they’re begging me for. If I keep to their newly narrowed limits, they’ll support me all my days, without throbbing or threatening to buckle. I’ll make them last as long as I do. And I’ll call them strong, sturdy and lovely, these knees. All mine. I take off the belt and stretch out to float and make a mental note to take those supplements when I get home. They’re smiling already.