Tuesday 16 October 2012

Put A Soc In It!: Water Polo

My latest instalment! Can be read on the Varsity website here.

I love Sundays. Given the chaotic pace of life at Cambridge, I afford myself the luxury of taking the day at a blissfully slow pace: a long lie-in, catching up on trashy TV, reading the newspapers, enjoying a relaxed roast dinner.

Not so, it seems, for members of the University Water Polo Squad, who sacrifice these
pleasures in favour of a morning of training in the swimming pool. Dragging myself out of bed and lamenting the omnipresence of closed curtains in the rooms of my fellow students, I prepared myself to join in their exploits last weekend.

Things didn’t get off to a winning start. Having not swum since my secondary school days (I prefer to lounge poolside, darling), I had entirely overlooked my lack of suitable attire for pool-based activities. I asked my neighbour’s impartial advice as to whether I could just about get away with one of my less skimpy ensembles, but the response being negative, I was forced to forgo breakfast and make a last-minute dash to John Lewis to scour its swimwear section for something more appropriate. I left the store with a hideously unflattering but positively practical costume, and cycled like the clappers to the sports centre.

I arrived in the nick of time, already red-faced and sweaty, only to discover that today the Varsity team trials were taking place. The captain, seeing the look of horror on my face, reassured me that there would be no pressure and we would take things easy. “Just twenty or so lengths to start off with, girls – no biggie,” she beamed. Half-way through my first, I was ready to faint with hunger, my legs had turned to jelly, and I had unintentionally swallowed copious amounts of water. With much coughing and spluttering, I reverted to doggy paddle. “Don’t worry – your technique’s great!” she reassured me, as I huffed and puffed my way to the shallow end. “It takes a while to get back into the swing of things – you should have seen me when I got back to training after the vac!” Something tells me she was anything but the pathetic paddler I was, longing for the comfort of my floats, woggles and – dare I say it? – armbands.

You see, water polo is played in deep water, and, to add further complication to matters,
involves a very specific style of treading water called ‘egg-beater’, the ins and outs of which got me thoroughly scrambled. Keeping afloat is only part of the battle – there are various manoeuvres, passes, catches and goals to execute, as well as warding off opponents’ attempts to ‘dunk’ you (thankfully, existing team members promised not to submit me to that treatment just yet, though I was given a bonnet with some rather hefty ear protectors to wear in case of any rough play…).

I never thought I would last the whole session, let alone see myself playing a game at the
end of it, but somehow the team’s infectious enthusiasm won me over. My legs might have only been capable of a gentle swish rather than the mighty egg-beating of my teammates, but I managed a couple of passes and even a shot on goal (easily saved, but, as the perpetually smiley captain pointed out, “at least it was on target!”). I returned home with a runny nose, dripping hair and bloodshot eyes, and savoured every last morsel of my roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. As my friends showed up in hall bleary-eyed, I felt a sneaky sense of pride for having spent my morning engaging in such hard-wearing activity whilst they slept off last night’s beers. Though next time, I won’t skip the Weetabix beforehand.

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