Sink or Swim

“When was the last time you had a swim lesson?” he asked. I started laughing. “Probably when I was 7 or 8? A pretty long time ago…”

I know how to swim, and thoroughly enjoy it. I swim like I run, slowly. Being in the water puts me completely at ease and I leave the pool tired, but so relaxed and so genuinely happy. I’ve signed up to do a triathlon in June in North Carolina with a good friend. As I’ve started swimming more often, I’ve felt as though I could be better at it. Hence the swimming lesson.

An aside, swim instructors are the nicest people on earth. At least the two that I’ve taken lessons from. So patient, and incredibly friendly. The world needs more swim instructors.

The first part of the lesson involved me swimming and him observing. After a couple of laps, he told me, “Your form looks good. There are a few minor things we can work on, but overall you’re doing fine.” Part of me was disappointed. I kind of wanted to hear, “You’re doing it all wrong. Let me show you how to swim!” And then I would learn the magic secrets of swimminghood and turn into a dolphin. That didn’t happen.

First we worked on my kick. I was kicking from my knees, instead of from my hips, and keeping my feet too far below the water. I practiced on the side of the pool (as I had when I was 7), and felt the difference. I swam a few laps, focusing on staying more horizontal, and not letting my feet dip too far beneath the water. Whoa! I felt more of a burn in my legs, and I was moving much more quickly through the water. Score!

Next we worked on breathing. He said I was lifting my head too far out of the water when I was breathing, breaking that horizontal plane I wanted to maintain. He suggested keeping one goggle eye in the water and only lifting half of my head out to breathe. This resulted in many full mouthfuls of water and uncontrollable sputtering. After a few laps, he suggested we move on to my stroke. I agreed that would be a good thing.

He showed me how to hold my hands (like Michael Phelps, nonetheless), and use the most force in the first quarter of the stroke. I practiced this standing still, and felt like I had the hang of it, though I felt a little like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I swam a few laps, and realized I was trying to focus on too many things – kick from the hips, horizontal plane, head in the water, don’t guzzle water when breathing, hold hands perpendicular, strong stroke at first – and I ended up flailing. Or simply rolling over on my back, mid-lap, and just floating.

After the lesson, I stayed at the pool to practice on my own. I tackled one aspect at a time. Incremental progress is hard. I was exhausted when I left the pool. I haven’t mastered the tips we covered tonight, but at least I didn’t sink.