The alarm went off in the dark at 5:30 a.m., which, to Kennett’s dismay, had become a recurring phenomenon. Practice started at 6:00 a.m. twice a week and at 7:00 a.m. two other times a week (three swims and one run), ensuring that there would be plenty of time to get in one or two other workouts throughout the day and to be back in bed no later than 8:40 p.m. Kennett fumbled with his phone to turn the alarm off, which was the old phone’s primary use. Next to him, Adelaide stirred in drowsy eyed solidarity. They had five minutes to be out the door if they wanted the precious few moments of hot tub time before diving into the frigid pool. They pulled on clothes, both silently rethinking their wardrobes to add multiple layers of jackets and hats. The van had no heater and it was well below freezing outside.
Out the door to the van, with snow crunching under their feet, the two said nothing to one another. Or maybe Adelaide said something, her being the more cheerful of the two when it came to mornings. Kennett, with zero coffee in his system, did not respond. His scowl most likely only deepened at the thought of conversation.
Once in the van, Adelaide took the lid off the Tupperware container that held Kennett’s pre-made pancake, already slathered with peanut butter and honey the night before and folded into taco form to ensure ease of consumption while driving. The van erupted to life and Kennett backed out into the street. A minute and 20 seconds later, about a quarter mile down the road, the pancake was finished and Kennett slid his ice-cold hands into a pair of itchy wool mittens. The radio blared some horrible song that Kennett and Adelaide both hated, yet sung along to anyways until they got to the Colorado Athletic Club parking garage five minutes later.
They both said hello to Mash, the friendly front desk employee, Kennett forcing himself to smile for the first time that day. It hurt. He quickly moved a few paces over and filled an eight-ounce cup full of free coffee, which was one of the highlights of the
morning week. He took his steaming prize to the locker room, sipping as fast as he could to get the precious fuel into his system for the workout ahead. He dropped off his gear bag in front of a locker and went to a restroom stall, praying for a quick movement. He was burning up hot tub time.
Upon entering the toilet stall and pulling down his sweat pants, he spilled coffee on himself and all over the ground. “Fuck.” It happened every morning. Kennett wondered what the guy in the stall next to him thought as he cursed and wiped up brown liquid from the floor with toilet paper. The guy in the stall next to him erupted with a violent diarrhea fart. He’s got his own issues to worry about, Kennett thought to himself.
Kennett finished shitting and simultaneously gulped down the rest of his coffee. He exited the stall, tossed the empty cup, stripped down, and got into his neon green speedo and gray swim cap. He grabbed his gear bag, which contained paddles, rubber band, fins, and other miscellaneous stuff, and then speed-walked out the locker room, past the already-crowded-at-5:57 a.m.-exercise-machines, and out the door into the freezing cold dark. He ran barefoot and shivering over the slush and snow to the pool area and jumped in the steaming hot tub, where Adelaide was already sitting with a glazed look in her eye. It was 5:58 an a handful of seconds. A little under two minutes of bliss. These were the few minutes that Kennett lived for-the extreme comfort besieged by cold, discomfort, and hard work on either side.
“Morning guys! Oh, don’t get out just yet. Let me see, 22 seconds left. Plenty of time!” an overly cheerful voice said from the dark, its face still partially hidden from the thick steam of the hot tub. Michael, Kennett’s coach, is the most morning of morning people Kennett had ever met. Kennett groaned, dunked his face for an extra second of warmth, stretched his goggles onto his head, and followed Adelaide and Michael over to the pool. He leapt over a few people hanging onto the wall of his lane and every ounce of warmth instantly left his body in a millisecond as he crashed through into the water, and I was shocked back to life.
The two seconds before and after jumping into the pool are the absolute worst part of my day every Tuesday and Thursday. “Okay people,” Michael said to the 20 or so of us spread across five lanes, “500 warm up, every fourth backstroke.” He then cracked a joke, which I don’t remember, and we were off. From there, things got harder, yet somehow easier at the same time.