This swimming thing is turning out to be a blessing on a number of fronts. As the combination of learned form and increased endurance add up, it is finally possible to enjoy the experience of being in the pool. Up until recently, I would not call it dread at heading to the pool, but it was something just short of that.
I recall one summer day watching my girlfriend Sue swim in the lake at Governor Dodge State Park in Wisconsin. It was a quiet August afternoon. The water was still and dark against the backdrop of tall pine trees on the hills surrounding the water. She leaned forward, and in a moment transformed into something lovely and moving in the water.
And I thought, I want to be able to swim. Like that.
That was several years ago. For a while, I avoided even trying. Then I joined XSport and began experimenting in the pool. I’d get tired and blow like a whale after two laps. I could swim, and my stroke wasn’t awful because I’d swum quite a bit while growing up. But there was a lot to learn.
I’ve written about the process enough. Learning to swim has taken time. There is still lots of work ahead to hit my goal of swimming a mile in open water come spring. But it’s going to happen. That I can see.
Sue has served as an excellent sounding board through all this. She’s a swim coach but we’ve decided that’s not the best way to go about this, her coaching me. In the interim, I share progress and we discuss issues of form and solutions. I’m working with a great swim coach named Whitney whom I met through XSport when she was coaching there. I learn from here. There’s progress.
Last night I took a look at myself in the mirror and realized that by swimming more I am actually changing my body. The muscles in my back are developing in response to better form and increased time in the pool. I’m no Michael Phelps, but my formerly parallel sides have developed a bit of a vee to them. Combined with regular weight work, this is a most healthy thing.
My goals with swimming are about two things: enjoying competitive opportunities and sustaining health. Plus, this trying new things is really good for the brain. Swimming is as much a mental challenge as it is physical. It requires considerable concentration as you refine technique. Most recently, this has meant learning to rotate the body during the stroke. This opens the shoulders, maximizes extension and actually helps propel you through the water.
Then it was time to work on the kick. Learning to kick from the hips and use the legs like extended rudders has resulted in being level in the water, and the feel of a stronger kick builds confidence too.
Getting my elbows raised and coming through was learned quickly through the “fingertips to the armpits” drill. Now I’m also breathing on both sides, an assignment given by swim instructor.
Yesterday, a new revelation hit me in the water. This was not technique oriented, but common sense. I’d only been breathing from the upper lungs. Suddenly I felt myself take a breath starting from the belly, like I do when I run. This was the result of relaxing in the water, and instantly it relaxed me even more. No more gulping. This was real breathing. So that’s the next level of rehearsal. Breathe deep. Exhale fully. Go for the distance.
And when things work, you can feel your movement through the water gaining in strength and efficiency. There is a real sense of accomplishment.
I know my body is nothing special. It is what it is. But it is also what you make it, and what it can become. Even as we age, there are rewards to be found in the process of challenging ourselves. This whole Baby’s Got Back thing is part of the process of staying healthy and whole.