By Deborah Paquin
Struggling to learn to swim as an adult, I noticed something key on my way to the pool one day . . . all the good swimmers had a swimmer’s backpack. They looked so cool sporting their swim parkas and matching packs. Then the thought occurred to me: while I may not look like a swimmer in the pool, perhaps if I bought a backpack too, I could at least look like a swimmer outside the pool.
But who was I kidding? I didn’t need a new backpack. That is until I spied a shiny new Speedo backpack on sale at the mall. SOLD! I had to have it. It was bright blue and fit my towel, goggles, and cap perfectly. It even had a handy pouch for my wet bathing suit. Over the years, I needed more things like ear drops, defogger or pool passes. It had two side pockets that fit everything just right.
In more than a decade, that pack stayed with me through it all: learning to swim, my first triathlon, my first Ironman, and my first, very scary, ocean swim. It saw me through my first Masters workout, my first swim meet, and even Nationals. I took it out of state for races, or to visit other U.S. Masters swim groups when traveling. Essentially, it never left my side.
And while I was often last out of the water, my backpack was always there waiting for me, sometimes the only witness to a personal victory over fear or my latest PR. Yes, it was always there – watching, waiting, but never judging – and it was always ready to hop on my back as we climbed to safety or headed to the showers.
This pack carried my blinkie for my first night swim, plus a hot jug of water to warm my body me after those frigid ocean swims. But now, after years of service, it is time to say goodbye. Faded and worn, the plastic inside has torn. And while the straps remain sturdy, everything inside now gets wet. I thought of keeping you, oh backpack, in my closet forever, perhaps to store something else inside, except every fold and crease emits beads of sweat or grains of sand from every pool or beach visited.
Even after I bought a new backpack to replace you, I couldn’t do it. While the new model is flashier with my name embroidered on it, it rides higher and wider, so doesn’t fit my back as well; and the pockets, well they just don’t seem to be the right size or in the right spot.
But the time has come. I must let you go. Truly, this must be what Shakespeare meant when he wrote that parting is such sweet sorrow. Farewell my trusty, reliable backpack. While being retired, you shall never be replaced. Thank you for always being there.
Sidelined by a car accident at age 50, Deborah Paquin decided she needed to learn to swim. She has been trying to become a “real swimmer” ever since.