I love the sound of my breath underwater, the way the sunlight dances on the bottom of the pool. The water feels like silk against my skin and there is nothing to do but move.
I am roughly eight weeks in with my swim challenge. My progression has been beyond my expectations. Today when I left the pool, I snapped this picture. My body feels different. My spine feels straighter, my gait when I walk feels elongated, and my arms and legs are more toned. I’ve taken two mini-lessons and even feel like I just might be getting the breathing down.
When I decided to get back into the pool, my primary driver was to try something new, something that pushed me outside my comfort zone. I wasn’t driven to swim to lose weight or even to tone. Instead I was seeking a zen state of mind, something I remembered from how I felt swimming laps years ago. I wanted to get to know my body again, see what she might be capable of.
Today when I lowered my body into the pool, I wasn’t sure how I would feel in the water. I never know for sure. Swimming is like many other activities, cycling, yoga, hiking, skiing in that you don’t know if your ‘flow’ will be readily available on any given day. There have been days I set out on a hike feeling drained and certain I would only hike a few miles, but ended up on a ten-miler. Days I felt full of energy on my bike only to find myself inattentive and uncertain.
I love the sound of my breath underwater, the way the sunlight dances on the bottom of the pool. The water feels like silk against my skin and there is nothing to do but move. My first efforts had me winded after 25 yards. My body felt like it was fighting against the water. Eight weeks in and I swim 100 yards without rest. The water and I feel like one more often than not these days.
Many years ago, when I worked at REI, I was approached by a woman roughly my age. I was 48 and in good shape. She asked me what I did to stay fit. I said, “Find something you love to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s walking, running, skiing, or yoga. You just need to love to do it!” I have felt like that with every physical activity I have undertaken.
Swimming is my new love and I now spend time in the pool three times a week.
Our Rec Center in Louisville, Colorado is wonderful and includes a lap pool. Actually, there are three pools I can choose from in the summer; one that is outdoors, the other two indoors, but surrounded by enormous floor to ceiling windows. Not always, but I usually get a lane to myself. Swimming solo in a lane when working on backstroke or breaststroke is important. I can’t always tell where I am going with backstroke.
I ride my new e-bike to the Rec center so I’m warmed up by the time I get there. Moving methodically, because if I don’t, I’ll forget something (like the day I forgot my goggles and bathing cap). Once I arrive, my bike is locked, helmet hung on the handlebars. Battery is powered off. Put on my mask, sign in and then head for the ladies locker room. I wear my bathing suit under my clothes so I can get in the water quickly. Clothing off, I head for the pool, grabbing a kick board and searching for an open lane. Sitting on the edge of the pool, I put on my bathing cap and goggles, set my watch and enter the water. Sometimes it feels a tiny bit cold, but once I am fully immersed, the water slides over my skin. Neither hot nor cold; but just right.
And here is where the magic kicks in. I begin with a front crawl and the world drifts away. There is no phone, no news, and I can’t even see who is nearby. All that is important is my body gliding through the water.
New challenges have been on my radar since my birthday in May. I wondered if my sixties might be the perfect time to reevaluate how far I could hike, how often I could ride, how much time I might spend being more active. For me, this has been a remarkable experience to date. I find that the more I say yes, the more I feel like I am returning to myself. Perhaps not as fast or as strong, but still able to learn new skills and see what clicks. Swimming fits.
The pool has become a kind of meditative space for me; I can’t hear or see anyone else when swimming. No social media, news flashes, text messages can disturb me. I don’t know about you, but I need this type of solitude these days.
For me, however, this self challenge has had positive ramifications that run far deeper than the physical aspects. Swimming has reminded me how we retain the capacity to change and ignite within ourselves the drive to stretch our brains and bodies. Why can’t I become a skilled swimmer? Painter? Photoshop editor? Finish my essay trilogy?
Maybe you are thinking of a pool challenge too. Here are some suggestions that I think might be helpful:
- Be patient and begin slowly. There is no need to rush.
- Take a lesson or two.
- Invest in the right equipment (a new swimming cap if, like me, your old one is over ten years old).
- Invest in well-fitting goggles.
- Shower and rinse your suit immediately after swimming.
- Be kind to those that need to share a lane.
- Set goals for yourself. For me, that meant swimming 100 yards without needing a rest (done!), learning to breathe every three strokes instead of one, exploring and fine tuning additional strokes.
- Do not swim in a swim skirt. The drag will drive you nuts.
- Invest in a good bathing suit once you know you’re committed (Tyr has a great modest fit suit).
- Try to set up a regular schedule for your swim workouts. I go three times/week and work on different things each day (technique, endurance and speed).
- Some days nothing will feel like it’s working. Smile, keep going and know there’s always tomorrow.
- Ask questions of swimmers in the lanes next to you. I have learned lots from other swimmers.
- Let go of fear of failure. No one is watching you. Really.
- Make some new friends.