Game of Strokes
Summer. Is. Coming.
I’m late to the game. Game of Thrones, that is. I’ve somehow become a binge-watcher, a term I never envisioned owning. As I routinely put my entire life on hold each night to view as many episodes as possible, it makes sense: When I sat down to write about a beloved Orinda summertime tradition, rec swimming, all that echoed in my head was the majestic Game of Thrones theme song.
Recalling how Arya’s death masks eerily resemble swim caps, it dawned on me – the annual OMPA (Orinda-Moraga Pool Association) swim meet actually IS like Game of Thrones. Every August since 1957, the memberships of nine local swim clubs converge at the King’s Landing of pools, the Soda Aquatics Center on the Campolindo High School campus, right down the road from Casterly – I mean Painted – Rock.
The premises fill to capacity with lithe swimmer bodies – uniformed, goggled and scurrying in all directions. Devoted parents lumber behind the younger ones like the protective Brienne of Tarth, ensuring their charges make it safely to the Clerk of the Course on time, towel draped ceremoniously over one shoulder till they meet again, after the race, to congratulate or console.
Large, colorful tents adorned with mascots and banners dot the surrounding grassy sports fields. Still more colorfully festooned tents provide shade to the fanatic, cheering crowds in the poolside bleachers. Merchants peddle their wares: Cockles, clams and oysters are replaced by swim suits, toys and airbrush tattoos.
Many battles are fought at this annual competition. Obviously, every exciting race is a battle. But frazzled swim parents are fighting so many more: the Battle of the Early Morning Wake-up Call, the Battle of the Improperly Flipped Swim Cap, the Battle of the Necessary Sunscreen Application, the Battle Over the Last Remaining Parking Spot, and, of course, the ever-popular Battle of the I’m Not Buying You Another $7 Shaved Ice.
And let us not forget our cast of characters:
House Orinda Country Club. OCC’s mascot is a shark. Their swimmers outnumber the White Walkers and slaughter everybody. I write this good-naturedly, as it’s long been accepted that the real battle amongst the swim clubs at OMPA every year is for second place. I would never last long in House Lannister with that attitude.
House Sleepy Hollow. They have dragons. Okay, technically their “Legend” mascot is a Sea Monster, but isn’t that just an aquatic version of a dragon? All female coaches should definitely be called Khaleesi.
House Meadow. Cersei with her bottomless goblet of wine would fit in well with my old mom gang here. Except that, you know, we’d all be sort of scared she’d kill someone over a DQ. Meadow’s mascot is a dolphin. Not the most intimidating of sea creatures, but smart. Like Samwell Tarley.
House Orinda Park Pool, the OPP Sting Rays. Wise and faithful about applying sunscreen, they respect the Unburnt. This also applies to grilled cheese sandwiches from their cool treehouse snack bar.
House Moraga Valley Pool. The MVP Marlins know as well as anyone else, if you fail to remove wet items from a swim bag, you will always find Reek.
House Miramonte Swim Club. The Gators are also similar to swampy dragons. Small but mighty, they remain a force to be reckoned with, like the Night’s Watch.
House Moraga Country Club. At evening meets, after the sun sets and the temperature suddenly plummets from “pleasant” to “North of the Wall,” swimmers are grateful for the Waves’ hot tub. Like OCC, it’s also a country club, so we can order beverages on site instead of lugging our grog from home, as long as one remembers to bring along their pouch of gold.
House Campo Cabana Club. CCC’s mascot is also the Marlins. Spoiler Alert: If we can have two Aegon Targaryens, I suppose we can have two marlins.
House Moraga Ranch. I’m surprised no one in the Seven Kingdoms faced death by piranhas. Perhaps in the sequel.
Any and all of these local swim clubs would be happy to provide tours and answer membership questions for those interested in joining. Rec swimming can get a little competitive at times, but it does seem undoubtedly safer than jousting.
Regarding the competitive aspect, at this juncture, like Tyrion, I’ll impart my personal opinion, and try to pan it off as something “a wise soul once said.”
Swimming, being a very precise sport with races calculated down to the nanosecond, gives young athletes a marvelous opportunity to compete with their own personal best time, instead of whether they finish first, fourth or 24th.
The camaraderie of being a team member and all the summertime bonding activities provided a much-needed source of structure, as well as daily exercise and entertainment, for my family when the kids were young. Adolescents are provided with employment opportunities through coaching, childcare and swim lessons.
I forgave the sport for all of the volunteer obligations saddled onto the parents. The teams of chain-dragging White Walkers understood that dragon wasn’t going to hoist itself out of the frozen lake. The benefits far outweighed the work involved. I can say this only because, like childbirth, one forgets the pain and remembers only the joy.
Finally, I am well aware that Game of Thrones is a violent and totally inappropriate show for children, and I am in no way suggesting they view it – this little flight of fancy is only for the adults. But if anyone has ever appreciated the speeches of John Snow motivating his troops, they will understand the kindling of spirit and the esteem-building power when children from 5 to 18 unite and work toward a common goal.
At the end of July, when one sees all the vehicles in town adorned with clever aquatic mascots and motivational window decoration, you’ll know why: (Cue theme song.) Summer. Is. Coming. August 2-4, 2019. Free of charge and general public welcome.