A few months ago, I joined a swim club in Los Angeles after a friend raved about how great she felt physically and mentally after each session. Her toned arms convinced me that swimming might a good way for me to get fit. I’ve always loved to swim, so I decided to take the plunge.
On my first day, I came prepared: new goggles, new swim cap, new bathing suit. I arrived early for the 5:30 a.m. class to introduce myself to the coach.
“Can you swim?” she asked as she shook my hand.
“Yes” I replied, thinking back to my old swimming days (see image below for reference).
“How many times do you think you can swim the width of the pool?” the coach asked.
I looked at the blue water, hands on my hips, and replied confidently, “at least three or four times.”
“Great! Let me see you swim up and back so I can assess where to place you.”
I jumped in the 7-foot-deep water and glanced at the 30 or so swimmers gliding in the water. When they reached the end of the lane, they didn’t miss a beat, performing an underwater somersault to turn around and swim back.
I pulled my goggles down over my eyes and started my swim. When I got halfway across this Olympic-size pool, my mind was flooded with thoughts.
“Damn! This pool is way longer than I thought.”
“It would be really embarrassing if I drowned.”
“What the hell was I thinking!”
I was gasping for air when I reached the wall. I looked back where the coach stood waiting for my return. Ugh! My pride made me swim back as fast as I could.
“I guess …I’m not …in as good shape as I thought,” I managed to wheeze out through heavy pants.
“You can say that,” she replied coolly. “Why don’t you get out and follow me to the other side of the pool.”
At that end, the water was a measly 4 foot deep. “Kids’ stuff,” I thought.
“We need to work on your breathing, your stroke, and your kick. But right now let’s just work on your kick.”
She then introduced me to my new swim partner — a sweet 82-year-old woman who immediately assured me that in time I would get the hang of things as the coach handed me a blue Boogie Board to use for the rest of the class.
Over the next several weeks, I learned how to kick from the hip, float on top of the water, arch my arms, push my chest and head down, rock on my sides, and breath with the rhythm of my stride.
When the coach told me to move up to a 9-foot-deep lane one morning, I was surprised she thought I was ready.
“Are you sure?” I asked a little reluctantly.
“Yes,” she replied casually before instructing the class to swim the length of the pool 16 times.
A ridiculous request. But I was determined to complete the task. Each time I reached the end of the pool, I held on to the wall, stopping to catch my breath. I was without a doubt the slowest person in the water. And at this point I am convinced my swim partner was measuring her progress by how many times she out-lapped me.
During another session, a third swimmer joined our lane. Twice I swam directly into them both. And to no surprise no one wanted to share a lane with me after that.
During one of my last classes, the coach came over to the edge of the pool and bent down, “Calida, you look so tense out there. You have to learn to enjoy the water.”
In frustration I replied, “How can I enjoy the water when I have to concentrate on my stoke, the rhythm of my breathing, and kicking just right.”
“You don’t have to be perfect. Just relax and enjoy the swim.”
She stood up and shouted to the group, “Everyone, let’s cool down with a freestyle swim until the end of class.”
Just then I remembered my favorite strokes to swim. I called it “the mermaid.” With my arms to my sides, feet and legs together, I dove deep down in the water. From down under, I looked over into the other lanes and saw the radiant colors of all the different bathing suits and splashing bodies. I was engulfed by the silence and tranquility of the water.
When I came up for air, I flipped onto my back and glanced at the golden morning sky. I swam a few laps this way. And then everything clicked. I felt like I was sailing across the water. And, finally, I enjoyed the swim.
As we kick off the new year, I’m making it a point to remember that it is often my own desire for perfection that gets in the way of enjoying so many experiences and moments in life. I look forward to 2014 being filled with more time writing, painting, reading, playing with my kids and less time trying to keep my house super clean or making other people happy. It’s a new year with new beginnings. I hope you all enjoy the swim!