There once was a time I didn’t know how to swim.
I don’t quite remember it in detail because by the time I learned how to conquer my fear of the deep end, all my memories of fear and inept fade away.
I took swimming lessons when I was young. In big part, thanks to my grandma and her inability to swim. She never learned how and has a fear of swimming as a result. She wanted the 3 grandchildren she had at the time to learn the things she never learned, so we did.
I grew up in a family that had easy access to swimming pools and in an area that has many lakes and rivers that people can swim in.
My childhood best friend and I would swim so much year round, I think we started to grow gills. She came from a family where swimming was scheduled into their lives the same way people plan for meals. It was a necessity and I was always along for the ride.
I have many memories of swim lessons, being on swim team, and the many water related adventures I had as I learned how to swim in various bodies of water.
I remember the fear I felt, as I learned backstroke, that I might hit the wall with my head before my hand hit the edge. Inevitably this did happen. After which I quickly learned that most lap swimming pools have flags near the ends to tell you that you have about 5 strokes left until the wall comes. I always thought they were decoration before that point.
I remember feeling silly when it was time to learn the butterfly stroke. All my swimming up through that point had made me feel powerful and graceful in water, truly like a mermaid in her element. Butterfly made me feel like a fish flopping around on land. Eventually though, with more practice I got better and better and eventually competed with my school swim team doing that stroke. It wasn’t great and I didn’t win first place by any means, I think I actually took last. But I did it. I completed my swim and put in my best effort, even though it wasn’t the best compared to other people.
Learning to swim taught me so much about myself that many other sports were never really able to teach me. While swimming can be a team sport, you are out there competing alone. It’s all on you to do your best in that moment and no one else is really relying on you, granted you aren’t swimming a relay. It’s just you, all the practice and hard work you put in, and the water. You can see and feel the different in yourself when you know you are out of practice versus when you are swimming regularly.
Swimming taught me discipline in ways that other sports didn’t. Having been a child that preferred to do things my own way, team sports were always a bit of a challenge for me to wrap my mind around. They all required you to do the same things as everyone on your team, even more so while the rest of the team would watch you. I hated being watched in sports as a child. But with swimming, at least the way my team and friends would swim, it was hard to watch each other with as much detail. It was challenging to be critical or laugh at another person’s mistakes when you are also in the water, working your body and focusing on keeping yourself afloat.
Swimming and being in the water gave me a freedom that simply isn’t available on land. A connectedness with who I am and the environment I am immersed in. Something I still yearn for as an adult who swims much less than my younger self ever dreamed I would.
The same principles that helped guide me through my learning years of swimming are the same principles that I try to connect with on a daily basis here on land. Discipline, overcoming fears, not feeling judged by those around me, and a deep internal and external connection with what I am doing in the present moment.
Who knew something a simple as swimming, splashing, and learning something new would ever carry me as far into life as it has. I feel blessed that my grandmother made the choice to make sure we were able to have this experience. My heart aches that she will have lived her whole life and only know of this experience through the ways in which I can explain it to her. But I am thankful that I now have the words to share it with her.