I’ve been swimming for many years. It all started when I wanted to complete a triathlon. Running had been starting to wear me down and my husband at the time suggested we try this new event: run, bike, swim. Unfortunately, I really couldn’t swim! Especially in a lake with 100 other people who couldn’t swim! But I started to practice and jumped into my first one and came out just about last out of the water. Thus began my swimming career.
Now I am primarily a swimmer! No more running and no more triathlons! The running has stopped recently when I picked up yoga, and I stopped competing in Tri’s a couple of years ago. Partly because the swim portion was so scary. I hated the feeling of being surrounded by thrashing, desperate athletes pawing their way in open water–all willing to crash into anyone in their way! No thanks!
My style is more a heated pool, plugged into my music (see picture above) doing my laps (fast or slow depending on the beat), to prepare for my day ahead. I often have stream of consciousness thoughts and realized my swimming has given me much….and so…I bring you this blog:
1. Finding a sense of community in an individual sport. While many swimmers join master’s swim teams or school teams, my swimming is purely for me. But within this solo sport, I have found a whole community of swimmers that join me in the pool almost every day. And we know each other very well! Getting naked in a locker room is a very good way to become close to someone quickly! And even walking around next to naked in bathing suits lets your inhibitions down! It strips us of our pretenses. We share our life stories about our families, our lives, our past, our future. We talk about politics, our work, our joys and sorrows. It’s a wonderful group. They set me on the course of my day. And when one of us miss some time, we all worry. While most of us don’t get together outside this swimming time, I feel they are all my friends.
2. Movement like dance defying gravity. I am so often struck while I’m swimming how it feels like I’m flying. The only other times I remotely have felt like this is in dreams. But this is real! I’m really doing it. There are moments when I am floating along (although I’m always working very hard) buoyed by the water and it’s such an amazing feeling. Where else can one be horizontal, holding on to nothing, suspended… Once, when I was swimming outside in Florida, with the sun sparkling on the water, I think I had an out-of-body experience.
3. Finding a sense of peace. Because we were born in water, being surrounded by water, I always feel a sense of serenity. Learning to relax took some time, but once one gains that skill, there is nothing like the water to sooth all that ails. Whenever I’m stressed out, my swim always relaxes me if I just let it. By the time I’m done, I always feel a sense of peace, without the tight muscles I felt with running. Much like the yoga now.
4. Breathing. I learned to be able to breathe slowly, mindfully, on both sides during the crawl and at the right time. Breathing incorrectly when you swim can be disastrous as we all know! Panic during swimming is what gets most people in trouble. If someone doesn’t know how to swim or tread water and their breath gets out of control, they are most likely lost. Interestingly, the mammalian instinct takes over, and often drowned individuals are found with no water in their lungs. One must always remember to keep the breath even, steady, long and drawn out. It helps above water too!
5. The water accepts all. It loves large, handicapped, injured, dense-boned and frail and rocks us all in her womb. She makes us all feel as if there’s no gravity and we can all be athletes within her arms. She shows no prejudice the way those sweating on the earth find. Slogging the way through a run, or someone missing a leg might find, or coming back from a back injury or an elderly person–the water is a gentle cradle. Sometimes it’s the person with more mass that is the better swimmer! They can relish this sport and not feel at a disadvantage as gravity doesn’t pull as hard.
6. It will take me to old age. So many sports seem to wear on people’s joints, back, hips. Not so with swimming. I see many seniors still religiously doing their laps and loving them. The water is easy on them and yet gives them a sense of self, allows them work the muscles and heart. There are many that still race! It’s a sport that is kind.
7. Working my body without pain. I used to feel ‘no pain, no gain’. But I’ve learned in my older age, that this isn’t so. Swimming is a whole body workout. Every muscle group is used from the turning of one’s head, moving one’s arms, moving one’s back muscles and kicking one’s legs. And of course one’s cardiovascular system is pumping all the while. One can work as hard or as easily as you want. But the resistance of the water always makes you work, even if you are doing gentle aerobics in the water. It’s a built-in ‘machine’ to work against.
8. To each her own. I tend to just swim 1 mile the crawl. It made me feel rather guilty for a while. Others were doing intense speed workouts. They had written workouts given to them by coaches. Even the lifeguard told me I should shake it up a bit. But I had many years of those kinds of workouts and I felt done. I didn’t want to be told what to do anymore. Now I simply go for me, to do my own thing and stay in shape. I listen to my underwater MP3 player. When a fast song comes on, I swim faster. Then I take a break on a slow song. It works for me-no pressure.
9. I like what I like. In the summer there are many of the swimmers that move to the lakes. Thank goodness. The ‘pool’ crowd is always grateful because then we get lanes to ourselves. Yup, I prefer a lane to myself and I’d rather not share. Certainly I will if I must, but it’s so much nicer when the water isn’t choppy and you aren’t getting hit by accident. I also like the water warm. The lake swimmers like the water cooler too because they are usually the faster swimmers. I’m a wimp and like it above 82 degrees. What can I say? I’m fussy and in a rut and my swimming brings out my OCC/ADD nature.
10. I’m me. I’m an athlete and always will be. I’m paring down now that I’m older to the things that give me true pleasure and enhance my life. Swimming is one of those athletic things. It brings me peace, community, strength, joy, breath, health and energy. It doesn’t hurt my bones or pull my muscles. I’m grateful to have a pool on the way to work!