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Speedo shame’

Scott Boyle | Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I have always had “Speedo shame.”

Unfortunately, I am not one of those people who can pull-off that amount of “tightness” to “body-covering” ratio. Truth be told, I have never wanted to, even from a very early age.

Although I would not say I was an easily embarrassed kid, I got more than red in the face when in grade school, I was shown the suit I was to wear on swim team. It had a great color, a cool logo, but not enough material. It was a Speedo.

To me, the “Speedo” brand has always meant “water underwear.” But don’t get me wrong, I know a Speedo can be useful. Even in grade school, I knew enough to know of a Speedo’s potential benefit for athletes. I knew it cut down resistance and allowed an athlete to swim faster.

But that stuff didn’t really matter to me. Back then, I knew my athletic abilities well enough to know they certainly did not necessitate wearing a Speedo. My lack of “top” finishes made it clear that I was not destined to be the next Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps (I was told later by my parents that they were happy as long as I made it to the other end of the pool).

But swimming the length of the pool was the least of my worries. See, I knew I could make the 25-yard distance. And I was certainly not concerned with winning. I just did not want to stand on deck in my “underwear.” If I was going to wear underwear, I didn’t want anybody to see it!

Wearing the Speedo brought a recurring nightmare to life – one where I forget to dress and show up at school before all my friends in my underwear. My only problem was I felt like I was reliving that nightmare over and over again on deck, each and every time I slipped into my Speedo before a meet and prepared to swim.

But Speedos took on new significance this past weekend when I had the opportunity to watch my brother Kevin play in the Ohio High School State Championship for water polo.

In case you’re not familiar, in high school water polo, players tread water for four separate seven-minute periods while maneuvering a sizable ball up and down the pool. They wrestle, lunge and jump at one another while trying to score goals.
Sound exhausting? It is. I was tired, and I was just observing from the stands.

And in a game like water polo, players can’t wear much more than a Speedo. Excess material would weigh their bodies down and make the game a torturous physical ordeal, if it wasn’t one already.

My moment of realization came before the game started, though, as I watched both teams stand on one side of the pool in their Speedos as the announcer read off the names of the players. In the middle was my brother Kevin, grinning broadly as his name was announced: “Kevin Boyle, Captain.” Wearing a suit that would have paralyzed me in embarrassment, he stood there, confident and ready to play in the biggest match of his career.  

As I took in that image, all of my “Speedo shame” went out the window. In its place came two piercing questions: “Was this the first time I was seeing Kevin in a sporting match?” and “Who was this strong, confident young man before me?”

And I realized these two questions were related. Over the course of my high school and college career, I thought about how I had never really made time to see Kevin compete and grow up in athletics. I missed soccer games, swim meets and water polo matches. I had missed the moments which had formed him into the man I was now seeing before me.  

But “Speedo shame” quickly became “Speedo pride.” I teared up as I realized that a Speedo, long a source of embarrassment for me, had become the light by which I was really seeing my brother for the first time.  

In that moment, everything was (literally) stripped away. I saw not just my younger brother Kevin, but a leader, a captain on a team that, after three years of existence, had achieved the unthinkable: an appearance in the state title game.

I realized I had been given a special opportunity.  But this made me wonder: “What if we really took the time to see one another, too? What if we stripped ourselves of distractions and really committed the time to knowing each other truly?” Perhaps we’d give ourselves the opportunity to see each other like I saw my brother in that moment, to see the deeper reality of who we all really are.

Scott Boyle is a graduate of Notre Dame and intern in the Office of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.