All it took was the gentle push-off of my legs from the shallow end of the pool, and I was immediately buoyed in body and spirit. Swimming again was like being back on a bicycle, only better. I was transported back to the times when I was a kid who loved the water so much, I never wanted to come out.
I was nine before I learned how to swim. It was at a day camp for quite a lot of kids. Finding out that I was relegated a red bathing cap which symbolized non-swimmer, I was disappointed. The over-crowded shallow end wasn’t where I wanted to be.
Instead, my eyes were drawn to the left side of this huge Olympic size pool where there was a water slide. But red caps weren’t allowed in that deeper section of the water. Only blue caps or white caps need apply. As those colors signified intermediate and advanced levels respectively, I thought I had a long way to go.
There was small hope, however, in the form of an instructor. He stood before the group of at least fifty of us and simply demonstrated some arm movements. Though I’d been swimming underwater for several years, I couldn’t float or tread water and definitely couldn’t swim. But something clicked inside me that day. I put the arm movements in place with some kicks and I was actually afloat and moving!
Motivation quickly propelled me into earning a blue cap only a week later and eventually a coveted white cap toward the end of summer. Because I belonged to the Girl Scouts, I was able to take more swimming lessons at a nearby high school pool the following winter. It was there that I learned breathing techniques to allow me to use the American crawl form as well as the side stroke, breast stroke, and sort of the back stroke. To this day I cannot rotate my arms in the backward propeller motion for the backstroke. And despite an affinity for going underwater, I never mastered flipping over at the end of one lap to start another.
Instead I learned the joy of swimming and all its rewards such as diving off a board, swimming out to large lake rafts and body surfing at Jones Beach in Long Island, New York. Times and places for swimming became fewer when I moved to Oregon. And a certain “medical” issue kept me out of the water for too many days in the month, rendering it difficult if not impossible to become a member of any local pool.
After taking the plunge in mid April, I realized how much I’d been missing. In a span of one week, I went from twenty minutes of lap swimming to fifty minutes, and now I swim for an hour, four days a week. The swim styles have varied as it’s been hard to do the crawl more than a lap here or there.
Today was my breakthrough with the crawl though. I just swam and didn’t think about it. My breathing came naturally. I did ten laps in a row, then ten more later on. I felt as if I conquered some fear that I wouldn’t be able to swim like that because I was too old.
For me to have rekindled this passion for swimming is almost a miracle. Last year at this time, I was hardly mobile. I do suffer from intractible migraines, and small motions cause me to sweat ridiculously with my nose running like crazy. But this doesn’t happen when I swim! I feel productive for the first time in years.
If I can do this, anyone can. A diabetes scare along with high cholestrol and blood pressure was incentive enough to quit eating sugar and junk food. My bad hip led me to therapy and now reunited me with the pool. It’s never to late to change. Find your passion and engage in it. If you’re overweight, just losing a few pounds or a size or two can greatly boost your morale. Less pounds to carry means less pressure on bad joints. If you’re already slim but don’t move much, find something that will get you going. There are people in the pool who can barely walk, yet do exercises with noodle and floats and whose smiles tell the story.
After I swim, the good feeling continues for the rest of the day. And I never talk myself out of swimming. It’s just the opposite. I’m compelled to go. I hope you find something that compels you too. It’s been so much fun, and I look forward to swimming more “crawl” laps. New goals, new endurances, new me. Wishing you the same.