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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Su Yeung Jang: Swimming Pool

Her diagnosis threw a wet woolen blanket over my spirit. "That will be it for running. You'll probably be able to continue with biking and walking. But, I'm afraid running is out," she said. The next time I saw my doctor she was draining two huge syringes worth of Coor's-like liquid from my right knee. This was indeed looking serious.

Yep, this was looking serious. Sucking
what looked like Coors Lite from my knee

To be sure, running has been much more than a sideline interest in my life. I started running as an 8-year old Cub Scout in New York City, winning silver and bronze medals which I still have stashed away somewhere at home. Just last November here in Korea, I ran my best 10-K in years. I envisioned myself as one of those ageless wonders, running forever, pocketing awards in my age group, until I moseyed-off into that last glorious sunset.

Coors imaging notwithstanding, I am not one to sulk in my own beer. Good thing. A 500-mike walk across northern Spain, known as the Camino de Santiago, is in my not-too-distant future. I don't have much time to turn this lemon of a predicament into a lubricating lemonade. Speaking of solutions, and back to my doctor, I had three rounds of what must be the world's most viscous solution injected into my knee. That concoction, brand named, Euflexxa, is part of my recovery strategy for being able to walk that pilgrimage from the village of St. Jean Pied De Port, on the French side of the Pyrenees, 800 kilometers southwesterly to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela.

But biking and walking alone won't get me there. Swimming, that other low-impact exercise, is well known as an almost magical physical therapy. I'm exhaling now. I hate swimming indoors: the roof, the vibrating sounds, the moist changing rooms, the slippery floors. Nothing could be further afield from the things that sustained me as a runner: the one-on-one communing with nature, the sound of my running shoes meeting the pavement, the ability to run anywhere in the world at almost any time.

The public Korean swimming pool I go to is about a 2-mile bike ride from our apartment. I am the only male expat sharing the lanes of this high-school affiliated facility. Of course, I had to undergo initiation rites of passage. During each of my first several visits there, the attendant came up to me and admonished me for not showering before entering the pool. (I had.) Guys in the locker room sent grimacing daggers my way for dripping water on the floor. Small prices to pay for the much needed benefits that swimming affords.

The Gyeungsan public swimming pool

The venue occupies an industrial-like site in a tired, but dignified, old part of Gyeungsan, a rapidly growing suburb of Korea's 4th largest city, Daegu. As is the Korean custom, shoes are removed upon entering. I place 1500 won (about $1.30) in a vending machine, get a ticket and exchange it for a locker key on a rubber elastic cord. Minutes later, I am in another world--a soothing aquatic space. The lanes are filled with mostly Korean ajamas (married women) and grandmothers who, by turn, either completely ignore me like some annoying floating flotsam, or smile and say,"good morning" in Korean. Essentially, it's quite like any pool anywhere in the world.

At the entrance, you place you shoes in a wallside cubbie.
Swimming, as advertised, has proven to be the best thing going for my knee. My old running tactics of setting goals and punching my stop-watch function, apply nicely in these watery lanes. The before and after ritual of biking along the working class streets of my district, provides some solace too. I realize before long, this will all be a memory--flashbacks that will carry me from town to town across the Spanish countryside as I walk the Camino.

Accessories to my aspiration:
walking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago


  1. Steve you have a gift with words and I am grateful to be able to connect with you/to you though your writing. Thank you. I am happy and inspired to hear you (and I think I read earlier Marsha) will do the Camino. I will walk with you in spirit.

  2. Keep on pedalling and fluttering! I am confident your swimming and biking will bring your knee back to good health and you will be triumphant in your Camino walk.

  3. Hi~ it's Brad
    I haven't seen you at the pool for a while, guessing the weather is getting cold... hope to see u soon there.

  4. Hi~ it's Brad
    I haven't seen you at the pool for a while, guessing the weather is getting cold... hope to see u soon there.