It’s snowing at the Hampton open air pool and I’m here with my Finnish swim buddies. I have not swam in months. The air is below freezing and we are so excited to be plunging into the warm outdoor pool. The lifeguards look plain funny in their arctic gear. Once in the pool, I put on my goggles, take off and to my great surprise, simply glide across the water. With ease and relaxation. With a speed I have never experienced before.
I am by no means a good swimmer. Up until a few years ago, the only kind of swimming I had ever done was the “granny style” – swimming breaststroke with my head held high out of the water. What are goggles for? But all of a sudden, I find myself on a swimming lesson with a friend. I seem to have a special knack for getting myself into incredibly uncomfortable situations. Perhaps that’s something I should mention the next time I’m being interviewed for a job.
I have just one clear recollection of that first 30 minute lesson. It’s the sinking – yes, sinking – feeling of fear and panic, when our swimming instructor makes us jump up and then down while breathing out under the water. We have to keep jumping up and down ten times without stopping. For somebody who’s always thought you’re supposed to hold your breath while underwater, the very idea of exhaling into the water is terrifying. And this young instructor with that typical lean and muscular swimmer’s body expects me to just do it. Wearing my brand new goggles, I am happy she cannot see my tears, as I attempt to carry out the exercise.
We do go for a second lesson. And a few more after that. I practice breathing into the water at home. I fill up the bathroom sink with water, wiggle my goggles on, put my face in the water and blow bubbles. The times I hit my head on the basin tap. But it works. We progress from breast stroke to crawl. It does not come naturally to me. At one point, we sign up for a freestyle course and the instructor calls out from the edge of the pool that it hurts her to watch me crawl, because I am so tense and rigid.
Nevertheless, swimming does become a regular occurrence in my life. It is the social aspect of swimming that gets me out of my comfortable, warm bed all those early mornings rather than the sport. Lively discussions with a group of friends in the changing rooms, up “Just here to chat” lane in the pool and at breakfast afterwards.
This past weekend my swimming group made it to London. And I swam like a dream.