I arrived at the pool on Friday eager to learn a new stroke: the breaststroke. For my birthday last autumn, I received Sheila Taormina‘s Swim Speed Strokes book. I’ve been swimming freestyle for six seasons now, occasionally throwing in a bit of kicking on my back. My main focus is still improving my freestyle, but I’ve also been eager to learn a new stroke. I believe doing so will improve my freestyle, because every bit of mindfulness and intentionality can only help me get a better feel for the parts of my regular swimming. Plus, in my heart of hearts, I’m excited just to try something new.
When Alexis discovered that I was learning a new stroke, she was excited. “You need to have Jen help you with your kick. It’s hard, but she helped me a lot with mine. Hey, Jen! Jeff is learning the breaststroke!”
Jennifer is one of the best swimmers at the pool, and it was great that she volunteered to help. We spent a lot of time at the wall going over the basics. “It’s not a frog-kick. It’s a whip-kick.” Some people are capable of hearing what they should do with their limbs, visualizing it, and then doing it. “Bring your feet up with your knees mostly together, then snap them around back to the start. That’s where the power comes from.” Some people can hear all of that and do it. I am not one of those people.
Eventually I did it well enough that she cut me loose with a kick-board. It wasn’t pretty—I kept veering to the left and running into the lane divider—and I was exhausted after each length of the pool. But I did my kicking, although I never felt like I really got the hang of it. After 100 yards of kicking, it was time to do a little freestyle.
Which brings us back to Alex’s challenge: “Let’s race! I haven’t done any breaststroke in months.”
I got a good push off the wall and started whip kicking. Alex arrived at the far end of the pool and looked back in my direction. I waved at her from 1/3 of the way down my lane. She laughed and waited for me to arrive. A few seconds later, we started the second part of our race.
Somewhere on the way back, it all clicked. I could feel the power in the whip. I pulled ahead and—I can’t believe it—won! It was a small victory, to be sure. More than anything, starting to get the hang of the technique was the true win.
Soon I’ll start working on the front half of the stroke. G-d help me when I try to incorporate the two together.