Why We Should All Be a Little More Like Public Swimmers

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.

It happens on an almost daily occasion, to the point it’s become a part of my workout.

I’ll be cruising along during my workout when a public swimmer, baggy shorts and goggles around the neck, strolls over, walks past 4 empty lanes, does a couple arm swings, hops in and pushes off to do some head-up breaststroke up and down the black line.


It shouldn’t surprise me. It happens so often, so routinely that if a slow moving public swimmer doesn’t hop into my lane to swim a couple laps before moving to a speed-appropriate lane I view that training day as a special treat, and leave the pool feeling unabashedly spoiled.

Sometimes, however, a light scolding is in order.

On one such occasion I politely asked a man who was floating (key word being floating) up and down the black line to swim circles according to the posted signage, to which he looked at me blankly and said – “I don’t think I will.”

And floated off.

I’ll admit – he owned me with that comment, leaving me stupefied on the wall for a couple minutes afterwards. (There was also the lady that tackled me mid-stroke to tell me to give more space to the swimmer ahead of me. But that’s for another time.)

My swim last night was no exception. I hit up the pool late because it would be quiet. How quiet? Including myself there were 4 swimmers in 17 lanes. Yes, you read that correctly – 17 lanes.

So imagine the disappointment when baggy shorts and goggles-around-the neck dude hopped into my lane just as I was coming in to execute a mildly awesome flip turn. He pushed off, and not wanting to interrupt the rep I was totally crushing, I pushed off the wall and nearly went head first up the bottom of his shorts.

Ducking around him I sped across the pool and stopped at the wall.

It was at this point that I went into the 3-stages of lap swimmer-rage:

Stage 1: Disbelief.

“No way…he’s not going… there’s no way…Really?”

Stage 2: Indignant and Entitled

“How dare he… What could he possibly thinking… This is, like, totally my lane… Can’t he see that I am in the middle of a megaton set and that I am totally killin’ it??”

Stage 3: Hulk Smash

“That’s it! Where are my fins and paddles! Tahiti Break engage! Time to drown this fool!”

I continued with my workout, swimming essentially head up freestyle and just like Keanu in The Matrix ducking the sweeping breaststroke-sidesweep kicks, until he realized that there were open lanes elsewhere.

The only hesitation he felt in choosing a different lane was that those other lanes weren’t marked as being the “fast” lane.

The default lane choice for most lap swimmers – absolutely regardless of ability – is the fastest lane. It doesn’t matter if the moderate lane is empty, the leisure lane is empty, or that there are 5 swimmers in the fast lane and the rest of the pool is empty.

It’s understandable. Nobody wants to swim in the slow lane. Nobody wants to be known as the slow guy or gal in the pool. And so what do these lovingly ignorant public swimmers do?

They reach. They extend themselves beyond their abilities. They pick the fastest lane because, well, they ain’t got time for the slow lane.

Something the rest of us should be doing a little more often as well.


All too often swimmers play it safe.

They will go the lane where they will lead, not where they will be challenged. There are heaps of reasons for this. You don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. You don’t want to appear too ambitious. The thought of getting passed by the older kids terrifies you.

We play it safe with a lot more than just our lane choices. We set the bar low with our goals because we are scared that we won’t be able to handle the disappointment of not achieving them. We undervalue our talents and abilities. We think ourselves less capable, less tough, and less flippin’ awesome that we oughta.

Next time you are walking out on deck embrace some of that ignorance that our local public swimmers hold. Reach higher than you can grasp. Challenge your comfort zone. Dream big and act bigger.

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I like it. I actually told one of my swimmers once, “bite off more than you can chew, then chew it.” It’s ripped off from an internet meme, but it was situationally relevant at the time. I have a feeling, though, that this will just turn into lap swimmer/triathlete rage stories. And I’m sorry to be the one to derail it, but I’ll start us off. Lap swimmers/triathletes are the bane of my existence. For every reason you listed and more. At my pool, we leave two lanes open for lap swim during my team’s swim practice. If there are four people in those two lanes (one on each side), the fifth person to show up will just sit and… Read more »


Did you bang Triathlete dude’s head against the gutter to beat some sense into him or were you just too stunned by his cluelessness to form words?

My sister (a swimmer-turned-cyclist) did a xterra (off-road) Tri for s—s and giggles. Hadn’t swum a stroke in at least two years. Came out of water third. Afterward, the triathletes were all, “Who’s your coach?” Sister names our old age-group coach and then adds “25 years ago!”

The experience led her to declare a new law of swimming: “Old swimmers don’t get slow. They just get faster than triathletes.” I think I’m gonna get that printed on a swim cap. Who wants to buy one?


Great article! As a former track runner, it’s no better in our neck of the woods since inevitably joggers/walkers insist on being in lane one. We lovingly give them “drive-bys” and buzz by as close as possible just so they get the message (which often times, they don’t). But you are correct in that, you have to love the mentality and “can-do” attitude of believing they belong in the fast lane, although I tend to think that the majority of the population are deluded as to their abilities… Also, classic when people try to give well-intentioned advice… If I had a dime for every time someone yelled out to me, “Honey, slow down! You don’t need to lose any weight!!!”… Read more »


Haha, the three stages of a lap swimmer is really the greatest thing I’ve ever read. Catches the emotions so freaking accurately.

I can relate so freaking hard because there is a woman frequently swimming in “”””my”””” home pool, who actively seems to enjoy to watch people suffer. She feeds of anger.

She swims the worst backstroke one could describe, ALWAYS jumps infront of you in turns and then LOOKS YOU IN THE EYE. She doesn’t have a goggle, just so you can see here stare in full form. Every decent swimmer has made run ins with her (literaly runins aswell, as she usually drifts from one side of the pool to the other).

That’s fun.


I think her cousin swims at my pool, only she is a freestyler — air quotes around the word freestyler. I call her Thumpy because she has a one-beat kick and I can feel it when she takes said kick. It’s like a disturbance in the Force.

cynthia curran

Oh, well, I kind of lucky, the rec pool I use one usually has your own lane. I suppose to get blue cross insurance in July where I can get LA Fitness free. This would help in the winter since my lap pool closes down 3 weeks in winter. Last winter I used my mother’s apartment pool, only 10 yards during the winter break at the rec pool since I swam the Tuscon senior Olympics and needed some practice time but this year I can also do LA Fitness. Probably will face some crowding issues there, though.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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