Astonishing Myself, and not Drowning in the Process

Swimming Class #1:

Wow, 8:30 is super late. I’m tired. Oh, right, I should take a towel. Swim cap, you say? Thanks, friends…I guess that and goggles would have been a good idea. On the bench: It’s cold in here. In the water: Are you SERIOUS?! Do they heat the pool with ICE CUBES? Hey, I love my instructor! Can I hold my nose when I go underwater? No? But why not? You know, I’m not so sure about this instructor. What will I do if I lose my contacts? I better get goggles. This isn’t so bad I guess. It’s a good thing I’m confronting this water thing before the Tough Mudder in a couple of months. I love my instructor!


Me literally freezing my literal ass literally off after Class #1. It was like 3 degrees outside. Literally.

Swimming Class #8:

Hey, swim friends! Good to see you again! Bobs? Sure I can do ten of those, no problem! Hey look, that front to back to front float thing is coming along nicely. Front crawl? I only sometimes feel like I’m going to drown now. I wear a swim cap and goggles like a boss. Back crawl is my favorite. And look! I can go around in tight little circles. I do believe with some practice I’d make an excellent synchronized swimmer. Is that a thing anymore? On account of it not being the 30s anymore…


Me with swim cap (way too small) and goggles (way too big). I’m still working out the kinks.

Adventures in swimming class…With only two classes left of ten, I can say it’s been a success. Things I can do reasonably well that I could decidedly not do a month ago: Ten bobs in a row without holding my nose. Turning from front float to back and then over to front again. A passable flutter kick. A halfway decent front crawl stroke (for a beginner, anyway), back crawl, tight turns, and jumping into the deep end of the pool without holding my nose!

The Mudder is right around the corner now, and as scary as the water obstacles still sound to me, I did myself a huge favor by getting into the water and learning some basics before the big event. My instructor, a jolly, super-positive force of nature/dolphin/mermaid/saint, knows I’ll be completing the Mudder and has pushed me a little harder because of it. Last night we were practicing jumping in and swimming to the shallow end, from about halfway down the pool, at about the five-foot depth. When it came to be my turn, the instructor cocked her head down to the far end of the pool.

“I think you can do it.”

Without hesitation, I said, “I think I can too. What’s the worst than can happen?”

Laughter from both of us and the two teenage lifeguards. Ha ha ha. The kids laughed a little too heartily, in my opinion. But I hefted myself out of the pool (no ladder for me! gotta work that upper body!) and walked down to the far end of the pool, trailing the lifeguards behind me, my classmates cheering me from the the shallow end. When I reached the end of the pool with the instructor treading water just below, we had a short discussion about which lane I would use to swim back to the shallow end (I voted for the one closest to the side) and then she gestured at the lane platform, poised about two feet above the edge of the pool and tilted precariously toward the water.

I shrugged, and said, all bravado, “Sure, why not.”

And I stepped up on that platform.

Let’s recap. I am now standing two feet above ten feet of water, looking at the length of the lane, and knowing it would be my job to jump in, find a way to breathe, and then swim from…here…to…there. I know toddlers probably do this all day long, but it was something I’d never done and hadn’t really contemplated my ability to ever do, having never taken a swimming lesson in my life. But last night was the night, and it was happening, despite any trepidation (or common sense?) on my part. I reviewed my plan – the stride jump, the surfacing, the taking of the deep breath. Then, as the drill required, the five-second front float, the flip to back float for five seconds, back to front-float for five seconds, big deep breath, and then…front crawl the approximate seventy hundred miles from one end of the pool to the other.

Oh, I second thought the whole thing. I thought about several possible outcomes, only one of them being that the experience would go according to the above plan. But then I reminded myself that in less than six weeks, I would be standing TWELVE feet in the air, above murky water, without a friendly swim instructor in the water below me, and if I couldn’t do this, then maybe it would be safer to skip the Mudder obstacle altogether. And that? That is not happening.

So, before I could give it much more thought, I nodded at my instructor, took a deep breath and walked off the platform, hitting the water with a splash. Oh, the water was deep. So deep. I let out way too much air at impact (I so hate that feeling of water in my nasal passages and lungs so I’m invested in blowing out hard) and wondered briefly if I had enough left to reach the surface. Of course I did (but it felt like barely) and upon surfacing I took in a huge gulp of air (yay! not water!) and glanced at my instructor to see if she was ready for my front float. She nodded and I lay myself gently down into the water. Some of my classmates find the floats so difficult. For someone with certifiable control issues, I’m surprised they’re so easy for me – perhaps they are a way to give myself over and let myself be held without having my cradling be a transaction I have to somehow repay. The water holds me without expectation. It’s lovely. The instructor lightly tapped my arm, and as planned, I gracefully flipped onto my back. She had taught us the magic technique of bending at the knees and slowly bringing our arms over our heads to shift the center of buoyancy. It works every time, and it worked that time too – I could feel the air on my belly. Another tap, a deep breath, and another graceful flip, and I was on my front again, gently blowing a bit of air out my nose, to discourage water flowing up into my nasal passages. I was face down for just long enough to have this thought. “I have to swim the entire length of the pool. What the-” before I felt the tap again, meaning it was time to take off.

Turning my head toward my instructor, meeting her kind eyes for a moment, and taking a big gulp of air, I then began to swim. Pull, reach, kick, head down, 12/6, roll, breathe…all the components came together in what felt like a messy but not-likely-to-kill-me front crawl. I knew I had a long way to go, so I tried for a sensible pace. As a runner who likes to sprint in intervals rather than do long slower runs, I’m always having to slow myself down in the water. I know this slowing down process is good for me on many levels, so I welcome it. I could hear my classmates cheering me on, and that of course, was incredibly motivating. It also strengthened my resolve to complete the length without stopping, and to try to do it with some semblance of grace.

About two-thirds of the way back to the shallow end, I began to “take on water,” as I call it. No matter the adjustments I tried to make, I was still breathing in water with my air when I turned my head to the right. I skipped a breath and concentrated on blowing the water out under water, and when I came up for my next breath, I was able to take in more air than water, but it still wasn’t pretty. I knew if I could just somehow keep clearing my breathing passages, I might just make it. I consciously connected my mind and my body and willed myself to slow down and not panic or begin to flail or give up and stand up. As I approached the end of the pool, my classmates began to cheer in earnest. The final couple of strokes were not things of beauty, but they got me to the side. If my classmates were nearby there would have been high fives and fist bumps all around, but in lieu of that, I briefly touched my forehead to the side of the pool, and gave a silent thanks for it being there. I turned around, fists in the air and a giant grin on my face.

Did you see what I just did!?!” Oh, they had, and there was much rejoicing.

I love my class, and I’m going to miss these folks when it ends.

After class, I thanked my instructor for making all the difference for me when it comes to facing the water at the Mudder. The confidence I have I think is realistic. Please don’t make me swim two whole lengths of a pool just yet (is that a lap? I don’t even know), but if I have to jump off a platform, or fall off the monkey bars, and swim to the side of a pool? I can do that without fear of drowning. And a month ago I wouldn’t have been able to say that.

What have you done to astonish yourself this week? There’s still time!

Stay warm, friends. xo

P.S. A huge thank you to my Internet friend Jenni from California for sending me a real swim cap (not pictured) just because she believes in me. ❤ ❤


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