On Butterfly

I am unconscionably vain about my butterfly–unconscionably and unjustifiably, because I’m really not that good at it. But I can do it, and I do do it, and that sets me apart from most folks in any pool that I’m in. Periodically someone will compliment me on my butterfly, which is very bad not only because it fuels my vanity but also because I interpret any compliment about butterfly as functionally equivalent to a marriage proposal. One Saturday I was swimming at the Furman pool, and a woman told me my butterfly was “sweet”: “That’s some sweet butterfly,” she said. I smiled on the outside and said, “Thank you!” but on the inside I lamented, “ALAS BUT OUR LOVE CAN NEVER BE FOR I AM MARRIED TO ANOTHER!”

Most people I swim with are happy to swim lap after lap of freestyle, but I have five good reasons why I swim butterfly (and maybe you should too):

1. Butterfly uses your whole body.

Butterfly uses all your muscles, and probably some you don’t have. Maybe you saw the reports in November about how doctors have discovered a new knee ligament; I am sure butterfly uses that ligament. The Livestrong website has an article about the muscles that butterfly works, but I think it would be easier to list the muscles that it doesn’t work. Maybe your tongue? I don’t know though; even my tongue hurts after doing butterfly. It’s a full body workout.

2. Butterfly burns all the calories.

You can find calculators online that tell you how many calories you’re burning when you are swimming different strokes. But you can ignore them: butterfly burns all the calories. If you are swimming so that you can eat, butterfly will let you eat more–trusting you are not too tired to pick up a fork.

3. Butterfly is sexy.

So, judgments about sexiness are subjective and dependent on individual preferences as well as cultural factors. But look at this:

Or if you’d like a nice underwater view (although with lots of non-sexy gurgly noises):

Butterfly takes power and grace, and power and grace together are seriously sexy. If you haven’t watched a good butterflier and said to yourself, “I wonder if those skills are transferable,” well, you will now.

4. Butterfly feels real.

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.

As far as I know, Sylvia Plath did not swim, but swimming, like dying, is an art, and no part of that art feels real like butterfly does. I can swim freestyle a long way and zone out; I can forget what lap I’m on or even which direction I’m going. But I never zone out doing butterfly; I am always completely present. I suppose this is a corollary to point 1, about butterfly using your whole body, but if you are questioning whether you exist (or if you are just a brain in a vat), I suggest a couple lengths of butterfly. It feels real.

5. Butterfly is intimidating.

Maybe you are a big hairy man covered with tattoos, and your problem is convincing people that you are not that scary. But I am five-foot-four-and-a-half with freckles, and my problem is communicating that I am much scarier than I look. And this is where butterfly comes in. When I swim butterfly, people give me space. Not even the most clueless beginner gets in the lane with the crazy woman swimming butterfly. It makes me laugh, but it’s true: I’m scary when I swim butterfly. You could be too.

I am not the only one who is a fan of butterfly. The Warrenton Masters Swim Team is sponsoring a USMS postal competition, the Butterfly Is Not a Crime Postal through August 31, 2014. Earlier this year, Sylvain Estadieu became the first male to swim butterfly across the English Channel; the incredible Vicky Keith was the first person to swim butterfly across the English Channel back in 1989 (see her website Penguins Can Fly).

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