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Misjudging the Competition

Pauline Nevins February 29, 2020 - Auburn Journal



In the past, when faced with competition, there have been times when I’ve smugly declared myself a winner, often prematurely. Like the time I was learning how to swim.

Those who have read my memoir know my childhood swimming lessons in the frigid outdoor pool in the merry village of Wilby were not successful, although I did learn how to hold my breath underwater.

Decades later, I felt foolish living in sunny California not knowing how to swim. I signed up for lessons at the YMCA. Several women were milling around the pool when I arrived for my first lesson. All wore one-piece suits and swim caps tight enough to cut off circulation. Most were at least 20 years older than I was. Excellent.


I worried I would be the oldest student and the slowest learner. Each outweighed me. Excellent again. Unfortunately, the concept of “fat floats” was unknown to me. While these pleasantly plump ladies floated effortlessly on their backs, moving nary a muscle, I had to kick like mad to stop from drowning. I would eventually learn to swim the sidestroke.

Another time I misjudged my competition, I was on firmer ground. Back in the day, before I moved to the Auburn area, I belonged to the Southgate Tennis Club in Sacramento. Sounds grand. And it was in the way that playing outside in the sun is with people you like. But we were a recreation and park district club and had no amenities other than four courts and a public toilet. When we hosted teams from local clubs, I was a little embarrassed. Most of the other clubs had fancy facilities like a roof and toilets with tiled floors. 

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