A Friendly Competition

John Nilsen and Patricia Beatley-Patterson
John Nilsen and Patricia Beatley-Patterson

My neighbor, John Nilsen, and I had the same goal this summer. We both wanted to rack up 100 swims in our community pond here in Ben Oaks.

Let me provide some background on our ½-acre pond. It is private, only for the use of residents, and is the focus of the community, for all generations who live here. Young mothers and fathers first bring their children as infants. All the kids learn to swim, and they grow up here. Most join the swim team and learn how to compete. In late elementary and middle school, the community’s children learn responsibility by taking a job raking the beach. In high school, most of them go through another rite of passage while serving as lifeguards. After the kids leave for college, empty nesters still come to swim and visit with each other. We learn what is going on in each household, celebrate the joys, and support each other in the sorrows.

To get back to John and me…he and I are the most dedicated of the people who swim laps in the pond. We don’t have the best strokes, nor do we necessarily swim the farthest or fastest. But we swim more often. We start in mid-May, as soon as the water is warm enough to be tolerable, and continue until after Labor Day, if necessary.

Despite our zeal for swimming in the pond, I hadn’t realized just how competitive John is, until we set our 100-swim goal. When overcast skies and cool weather made it uncomfortable to swim outside in late May, I continued swimming at my health club, and was able to get ahead of John, since we agreed to count the indoor swims.

In June, John over-compensated for May, and occasionally swam twice daily until he was ahead of me in the count. I had also missed a few days. Same for July.

By the way, John is 78 years old and thirteen years my senior, and I should also mention that after John’s June and July swim-a-thon, I feared that I wouldn’t catch him. He was ahead of me by at least 15 swims, and it was a sobering thought for me, when I considered how little of the summer I had left.

But when John went on vacation in August, I seized the opportunity, and I swam every day. I was able to reduce John’s lead to about 9 swims by the time he returned.

I smelled blood. It was possible for me to win this competition! I was inspired and started to swim twice a day. The problem was that John was swimming twice daily, too. I had to up it to three a day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one after dinner. Since I don’t drive, my husband had to drive to the pond six times daily, three to drop me off and three to pick me up. We were getting little else done. John tried to tell me that it was against the rules to swim three times, but I pointed out that we had never agreed to that.

I even started swimming in the rain. The chilly weather in late August made the water very cold, and I finally had to relent and pull out my wetsuit. Advantage to ME! John didn’t own a wetsuit.

Finally, I closed the gap so that, while I was never ahead of John, we were neck and neck. At that point, we agreed to cease our competition and accomplish the goal together. As of this writing, we both have completed our 100 swims, and have gone out to dinner with our spouses to celebrate.

As my husband says, “Sometimes the most important thing in life is just showing up.”

Patricia is a retired attorney who has lived in Severna Park for over 20 years.  She and her husband, Rodney, raised their daughter in Ben Oaks and became empty nesters three years ago.  She considers herself a bit of an athlete: swimming, walking the dog, and practicing Tai Chi.  She also meditates, but not consistently, and loves writing, which she has done for her own enjoyment all her life.

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