I have a confession: I kinda like swimming.
When Lisa convinced me to start swimming in the winter of 2009 as part of our collaborative “let’s lose weight and get ready for snorkeling in Australia” kick, I was bad at it. I mean really, really bad. Barely make it to the other end of the pool bad. Get lapped a dozen times by Lisa bad. My six-foot long wingspan looks like velociraptor arms (without claws) bad. Dog paddling would be better bad.
Swimming got easier, but I didn’t warm up to it. At first it was something I did because I said I would. Then I was doing it because if I’m going to do something I’m going to do it as well as I can. If I didn’t really enjoy the mile swim that we did at the pool every Saturday afternoon, at least I could be happy that our pace was improving and that I could probably save myself during a capsize in the tropics.
This winter and spring I was going to the pool because of the triathlon. I never really looked forward to the swim portion, and then I did the race. And I hated the swim. I mean really hated it. It couldn’t have been over fast enough. But I liked the other parts quite a bit.
Because of my stubbornness it only seemed appropriate that I was back at the pool less than a week after doing the triathlon. If I couldn’t love the swim, I thought, at least I could finish it quickly. And I asked my pool peeps about open water swimming. Jumping in the deep end, so to speak.
That second swim in open water started off feeling like the first, but then it got better. My technique started to conquer my reptilian “I’m going to drown and/or never be finished” brainstem’s protestations. I felt the sun on me and enjoyed the people around me and decided it was worth doing again. Which I’ve done . . . a couple more times.
While I’m definitely not the fastest person in the lake, it helped me to know that I wasn’t the slowest either. And I don’t swim a very straight line from one point to another. After all, I can barely see where I’m going, and I drift really hard to the right, mostly because I currently can only breathe on one side of my body. The one time at the pool that I decided to work on breathing bilaterally, I had a wee freak out . . . quietly . . . in my own lane so no one would notice.
A big part of me doing something is feeling confident at it, so I signed up for an open water clinic at a local lake hosted by a company that runs triathlon events. My goal was to figure out how to cope with having so many people around me during the swim. In the triathlon, I was always swimming up on people, hitting their feet with my hands and knocking me off my rhythm.
Surrounded by about fifty other newbies a week ago, I had a plan: Swim 100 meters out to the buoy and see what happens. (I know. I have the simplest plans, but they’re usually achievable. Aim low and go from there, but just get going.) Everyone was told that an easy way to avoid running into lots of people was to spread out and make a diagonal toward the first buoy. So many people did just that, leaving plenty of room near the actual lie of the course, which is where I placed myself.
And we started. And I swam straight-ish, sighting on the big, red buoy. And I was shocked when I got to the buoy first, which I rounded without a problem. And I was even more shocked when I got to the beach first. (Although I was not shocked when one of the coaches told me mid-course that I had veered back across the middle line and was steering into head-on traffic.)
Because of a trip we made to Oregon, I’ve only been in the water once since the clinic. On that outing with just a couple other people from my triathlon training club, I still had trouble sighting, and I still pulled to the right, and I still had some worries and wonders about my blood sugar. But I didn’t worry about the other things, and it was the first swim that I really enjoyed from start to finish.
While on vacation, I was thinking about that swim and a couple of the other open-water outings that I’ve had in the last few weeks. My main thought was, “This is a beautiful morning. I wish I were swimming.”
Tomorrow morning is threatening rain, but I’m going to meet others at the lake just the same. It should be fun.