backstroke, body image, breaststroke, creativity, exercise, fearlessness, freestyle, health, healthy-living, learning, mental-health, persistence, sitcom, St. Teresa of Avila, student, teacher, teaching, tragedy, weight loss, whiffle ball, writer's block
In January, I joined the Flushing YMCA to learn how to swim. I blogged about that decision here. As I said, this was no ordinary decision for me; it was unusual, in that I hadn’t been in anything larger than a soaking tub for more than thirty-five years, and haven’t even owned a swimsuit for that long. I thought that swimming would be a safe, easy way for me to start exercising regularly.
I didn’t expect I would LOVE it.
Well, now it’s almost five months later; I swim laps four times a week for an hour to an hour and a half each session.
I have four strokes that I feel solid with, in order of preference: breaststroke (read about why here and here); backstroke; elementary backstroke;
freestyle (admittedly, my weakest stroke, but I’m working on it).
I’ve lost just over sixteen pounds, without dieting. I’m almost halfway to my goal of losing forty pounds this year.
How on earth did this happen to me? How did I become a swimmer?
I practice a lot. I take swimming seriously. Things happen to me in the water that don’t happen anywhere else. I never would have discovered those things without a guide.
I took a beginners’ class hoping I wouldn’t make a fool of myself–I mean, I’m a heavyset, middle-aged, extremely nearsighted woman who hadn’t been in a pool in almost forty years. It could have been a sitcom or a tragedy, depending on the writers and the actors.
I GOT SOOOOO LUCKY.
I got Eddie Langer for my teacher. And he is an awesome teacher.
I’m luckier than many who come to learn swimming in midlife. I am not afraid of the water; I’m especially not afraid of deep water. I came into class knowing how to float. In fact, one of the benefits of too much body fat is that it keeps you buoyant; I can’t touch the floor in the deep end unless I JUMP into the pool.
What Eddie gave me is the confidence to try absolutely anything in the water. He is very precise about form, which makes sense to me, because I’m visual. If one way of showing me a stroke, or teaching me a drill didn’t work, he’d try another, and another, until I got it. He was confident in me, so I was confident in myself.
The best thing was finally breaking open the breaststroke. We worked on it every week for about a month. I worked on it by myself during open swim sessions. For weeks, whenever I tried it, I looked like a drowning crazy frog. We won’t even discuss what it felt like. At this age, I can swallow public humiliation in a public pool (along with all the swallowed pool water).
When I came upon a video of a drill that I thought would work for me, and asked Eddie if he could help me try it, he was game: I did, he did, WE DID, and it worked.
As Saint Teresa of Avila says, “Patience attains the goal.”
So, fine, you’re saying to yourself: Your teacher taught you. How did that change your life?
I was the brainy girl who always cut gym. I am the only person I know who once broke my own eyeglasses playing whiffle ball by fouling a ball up into my own eye. I have absolutely no athletic skills (except for a decent volleyball serve, but that was many, many years ago).
What learning to swim, and swim well, has given me is a level of confidence in my physical abilities that I never had before, not as a child, not as a teenager, certainly not as an adult.
Swimming has become a physical form of meditation for me. The world disappears. It’s just me and the water, my body making shapes through the water.
I’ve been writing a book, a memoir about my family, and–for about six months–was blocked on writing the day my father was found after he disappeared one June morning. Swimming opened that block. In the past month, I’ve written more than forty new pages. I started this blog when I started swimming. I started to draw again; I carry a sketchbook with me, in case the mood should strike. I am licensing my artwork again. My creative self has re-emerged.
What this tells me is that grief, sadness, frustration and disappointment are water-soluble (in both senses of the word soluble: able to be dissolved, and able to be solved). Joy, creativity, love and persistence are waterproof. They float, and can carry me across any roiling sea.
So thank you, Eddie. You did so much more for me than just teach me to swim. I’m going to keep practicing all summer, especially my freestyle (still my weakest stroke).
See you in September.