People like athletes. They are a tad like airline pilots, military personnel and Carrie Underwood in that few have anything negative to say about them and their good faith and humor is almost universally assumed. Some of my less athletically minded friends have considered introducing themselves as athletes to girls, just to get more positive attention. When asked how he would answer an inquiry about what sport he plays, one of my more innovative friends answered he would brush it off with a "you know, the one with the ball and the points that requires great feats of physical prowess." Yeah, that one.
It may be because people like to watch those who are in shape perform at their best. Or maybe it's just that people are awed and intrigued by all those impressive feats. It could also be that people like the thrill of a being in a cheering stadium, the shocked feeling of seeing someone stomped to a pulp, or the tingling butterflies they get in their tummies when a hush falls over the crowd at the climax of a game.
So when people ask me what I do, I bring up my best feature first. I confess that the first thing I tell them is that I am a swimmer. It usually works well for a few moments. The other person is impressed that I would devote so much time to swimming back and forth in a body of water with no one chasing me and they ask about how many people I've seen drown.
Then comes the test. There is no foolproof profession or extra-curricular activity. Lawyers may be wealthy, smart and well dressed, but their ethics put them in the same category as the smaller members of the Mustelidae family. Plumbers may work hard and have strong bodies, but their salaries and close proximity with "ewwey" substances makes their work imperfect. For extra-curricular activities, members of the debate team may be intelligent and have good prospects for the future, but their meager social skills and utter nerdiness balance out these qualities. Jocks may compensate for the deficiencies of debaters, but they carry their own liabilities.
Turns out, there are two types of people in the world. The ones who ask a swimmer what his favorite stroke is and the ones who ask if you wear a Speedo. Invariably, on a bad day, it will be the latter. The conversation usually goes like this:
"Do you actually wear a Speedo?"
"Well, if you mean Speedo brand, yes." [note, the question is left unanswered]
"Whew, for a second I though you were, uh, one of those kind of people..." [laughs]
"Well, I kind of am. I prefer to call it a competitive suit." [gulps]
"Wait; say what?"
But for a swimmer, wearing a suit isn't a fashion statement. It's a tool for speed. The electrician doesn't remove a pair of pliers for its aesthetic appeal; rather he worries about how well it will snip a wire. Similarly, we swimmers are not concerned about our apparel - until, of course, a friend asks the fateful question.
My new approach is to make like Billary and avoid the question entirely. I talk about how full body suits are becoming the norm for professional athletes (you know, the clothes that Jessica Alba wears to parties?) and start to talk about the greats in our activity. Heck, I'll even get into a conversation about my sister's music before I answer the speedo question straight up.
But just because we're athletes doesn't mean we never think about how we look. Just stop at a finish sometime and watch the guys and girls adjust their hair after a race and we most definitely still care about our tan lines.