Almost three months ago, I started swimming again, after avoiding any body of water larger than a soaking tub for almost forty years. I wrote about my decision to join my local Y and start taking lessons here and here.
I am happy to report that I am doing really well. I LOVE swimming. I finished my beginners’ class at the end of February, and am halfway through my eight week intermediate class (which turned into private lessons because I was the only person who signed up for Sunday mornings). My backstrokes, both regular and elementary style, are good mechanically and feel great. My freestyle has really come along; one-sided breathing is now natural, and I’m beginning to work on bilateral breathing. My Sunday classes are often a series of drills to work on particular aspects of my mechanics or form. When I go to open swim during the week, I do drills for about half the time, and just swim for the pleasure of it the rest of the time.
But, no matter how many drills I do, no matter how I break it down, and even though this week I’ve concentrated on it to the practical exclusion of everything else– I cannot do the breaststroke. Yet.
This past Sunday, my regular teacher was away participating in a race, so I had a different instructor. He asked me what I wanted to work on, and I told him that I wanted to spend most of the class on breaststroke. We drilled on the kick; he gave me very useful feedback and corrected my form. It was very helpful to have a different instructor’s point of view on what it was that I was doing wrong. The previous week, my regular instructor had told me to try thinking of the part of the kick where the legs open up as a plie. That made sense to me. Between that advice, and this week’s teacher breaking down the kick into three basic stages, I began to make to make some progress.
But putting together what my legs are supposed to do with what my arms are supposed to do just didn’t work. I ended up feeling like an insane frog gasping for air and I am sure I looked like one as well.
Daniel, my substitute instructor, kindly and diplomatically said, “Well, it’s not terrible.”
So, before going to open swim on Tuesday, I did some research online to see if I could find something that would make it all click for me. I found an animated gif of three views of what the breaststroke is supposed to look like on Wikipedia. It was an AHA! moment. I was crumpling in the middle; what I should be doing is imitating an inchworm. Both instructors had told me that my timing was off and that’s why it wasn’t working, but I couldn’t see it until I saw this animation.
So I went into Tuesday’s open swim on a mission. Half an hour of kicking drills, going back and forth the long way, with a kickboard, doing the frog kick (the s..l..o..w..e..s..t kick in the world), but getting and keeping my form. Next, the arms, in proper form, with NO kick at all– back and forth the long way, over and over and over again (MUCH faster with arms only than with legs only, by the way).
Then I put it together, looking less like a crazy frog, only spottily successful, but definitely making progress.
I went back today, and did the same thing. Kicking drills with the kickboard, stroke drills with no kick, putting it all together, and…doing my crazy frog imitation. At least I’m not gasping for air anymore. The stroke drills have me naturally coming up for air as I bring my arms back together; the kicking drills are doing the same. Just like Tuesday, I spent about an hour with nothing but breaststroke, making slow progress, two steps forward and one back.
I’ve befriended one of the lifeguards there. As I was making my …s…l…o…w… progress across with a kicking drill, I said hello. She asked how I was doing, and I told her about my battle with the breaststroke. She reminded me to point my feet out before the whip part of the kick. AH! I said, and that made my progress across the second half of the pool a little faster.
When I was getting ready to leave, she came over to me and said, “You know, when you first started, you could barely get across more than a couple of times. Now, you go back and forth like it’s nothing, your backstroke looks great, your freestyle looks better all the time. You WILL get this. Just keep practicing. Soon, you’ll be a pro.”
I am a very persistent person, almost pathologically so. I don’t ever like to give up, not on people, not on problems. I have always thought that anything can be solved with the right approach, and that a solution is often just a matter of taking a slightly different point of view. I’ve had really good feedback from three different teachers now, and each of them has offered useful advice, and expressed absolute faith that I will get the breaststroke, that it’s just a matter of time and practice.
So, I WILL beat the breaststroke: the breaststroke will NOT beat me.
I think I’m going to go again tomorrow.