Learning to swim

I never learned how to swim as a child.  My grandparents had a swimming pool, but I only remember being around the pool a handful of times as a kid.  When I was a teenager, I was never around swimming pools.  I had a couple of traumatic events with water, so swimming was terrifying to me.  I started out not being able to put my head in the water at all.   My head had to be much above the water and there could not be any water splashed in my face.  I would freak out if there wasn’t solid ground under my feet at all times. The idea of swimming made me very anxious.

The first time I tried to take swim lessons was when I was 19 and going through a turbulent part of my life.  The father of my boyfriend at the time thought it would be a good distraction if I signed up for swim lessons.  It was the first time I ever wore a swimsuit.  I remember being incredibly nervous and walking right up to the pool and peering down into it, wondering how deep it would be.  Unluckily for me, someone thought I was someone else from behind and pushed me into the pool as a funny joke.  I didn’t know how to swim, and the life guard had to jump in after me.  Even more unfortunately for me, it turned out that I was in the wrong building, and I needed to go to the swimming pool next door.  When I got there, they told me that no other adults signed up for the lessons, and they cancelled my lessons but forgot to tell me.  I didn’t sign up for lessons for at least three years after that.

After college, I took a marine biology class that involved being on boats and walking through water as the tide came in.  I stuck with a good friend of mine at the time, and I never really got too far in the water.  I felt like my life was more put together and that I probably should learn how to swim if I liked marine biology, so I started to take swim lessons in Seattle.  I went through a couple classes that started me off with putting my face in the water and learning to blow bubbles.  I was in a group lesson and I didn’t get very far before I ended up moving away from Seattle.  That started another year and a half hiatus from swim lessons.

I rented a house in Belleville, Illinois, and it had a pool behind it!  At the time, I had no idea how expensive maintaining a pool would be.  Since I started pouring money into this big wet hole, I felt like I probably should learn how to swim.  The nice thing about the pool was that I could touch the ground and have my head above water at all times.  After I installed a pool ladder to get into the pool, I started feeling much more comfortable with water.  I started taking weekly lessons at the YMCA.  At first, I took an adult swim class, but there were a ton of people who all had different skill levels.  The instructor tried her best, but her attention had to be divided across 8-12 people at all times.  As there were so many people, you only got to try a skill once or twice a lesson, and I didn’t learn as much as I wanted.

After my adult swim class ended, I started doing private swim lessons as well as going to a water aerobics class once a week.  I had an awesome swim instructor who would bribe me with KitKats.  She taught me how to put my face in the water, how to stop holding on to the wall and let go, and how to do the breaststroke with a noodle.  It was awesome.  Unfortunately, I moved again so I stopped doing lessons there.

I moved to another place that had a pool (but one that I didn’t have to maintain myself), and I only got in the pool a handful of times that summer.  This time though, I only waited 7 months in between lessons.  I started private lessons at the Center for Clayton.  I have an awesome instructor who jokes around with me and tells me to “kick for cake.”  I started weekly lessons with Sarah in August of last year.

Every time you take a break from swim lessons, you have to start a couple of steps back.  This time, Sarah recommended that I get goggles and a swim cap so I wouldn’t be distracted by my own head.  She started me off in the very shallow end with getting me to dunk my entire head under and touch the ground.  You probably think this is easy, but I was always terrified doing this.  It’s funny thinking back on it because I forgot about how terrified I was until we were reminiscing about it earlier today.  I would always make faces at her as if she were telling me to do something I didn’t want to do and I was a petulant child that needed to show my distaste.  Poor Sarah — she had to remember what I did the previous week or I’d let her do the same lesson over again because I was too afraid to go forward too fast.  She had to keep coming up with creative ways to teach me new things because I would get discouraged otherwise when I would try a new skill and fail over and over.

Over the course of a little under a half year, I went from dunking my head under water to swimming across the pool with flotation devices that kept getting smaller and smaller.  I was getting more and more comfortable swimming with flotaties until one lesson, when I was sharing my lane with another guy and somehow I ended up scraping my leg against the wall as well as taking in a lot of water.  I think we ended my lesson early that day as I limped away from the pool with a bloody leg.  I came back a couple weeks later and kept going at it.

With my luck, I accidentally injected a lot of water during a different lesson a month or two later.  I thought I coughed it all out, but I had a bad asthma attack that night.  My chest got worse and worse until I ended up in urgent care a couple days later.  The diagnosis was aspiration bronchitis.  Basically, I got bronchitis from sucking at my swim lessons.  After I recovered, I started up swim lessons again, but my brain regressed in terms of what I was comfortable doing.  I felt like I was at a standstill in my lessons for a couple of weeks.  It was insanely frustrating.  My legs would not listen to me anymore, and I couldn’t do things that I had previous mastered.

My swim instructor suggested that I start doing lessons twice a week instead.  My chiropractor was not entirely happy with that because doubling up on swim lessons didn’t give my body enough time to adjust and get better.  However, I started to progress much faster than I was before.  Under a month ago, I started to do the breaststroke across the pool reliably by myself without any floatation devices.  I convinced myself that it was a fluke, but I kept doing it swim lesson after swim lesson.

Today, I swam freestyle by myself across almost half of the pool!  At the previous lesson, I was just learning to take the first breath in freestyle and then stop.  There must have been something in the pool water today because I took the first breath, and then took a second one, and then I stopped.  I tried it again and I just kept swimming!  It felt so surreal to stop and see that I went across so much of the pool, so much faster than I normally would have with breaststroke.  I wasn’t exhausted and huffing and puffing afterwards either.  I finally felt that weightless feeling that everyone talked about loving.  I loved that Sarah was just as giddy as I was that I just took off and swam on my own.  I didn’t even remember that I didn’t have my normal floaties at all.  Somehow, I had so much more trust in myself (and of course, Sarah) that I wouldn’t drown.

I’m still on such a high from this experience.  Again, it feels so surreal that I set out to swim, and I actually achieved this goal.  I’m excited about my next lesson to see that I can actually do it again.  It’s weird to think that I’m finally at the point of swimming after all of these years of trying and quitting and then trying again.

Learning to swim was something that I wanted to do for myself.  Over the years, I’ve had many people be supportive as well as many people mock my inability to swim (mostly out of shock that I didn’t learn in the first place).  This year, I felt especially justified in thinking that I gave it my all and I just wasn’t going to get there.  I gave myself bronchitis for goodness sakes!  I’m not sure what motivated me to get back up and try again, but I’m incredibly glad that I did.  I’ve been ridiculously fortunate to have an awesome instructor, too, so I definitely give her all of the credit to getting me to this point.

It’s just so surreal that I swam by myself.

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