What I've Learned From Taking Swimming Lessons As an Adult
To the average onlooker, I’m one of those people who appears to be athletic. I’m not. I have real coordination issues that make my attempts at sports laughable. So, when I try to kick a ball, there’s a seventy percent chance that my foot will miss the ball; when I shoot hoops, there’s a two in ten chance that I will actually score—if I don’t hit the rim and send the ball bouncing back after me. I’m also terrible at handball and volleyball because the mere sight of a ball hurtling towards me sends me running in the opposite direction—I do not trust my body with sports.
The two things I can do are running—long distance—and working out (that counts right?). As a child, I tried hard to add swimming to my pitiful repertoire, mostly because everyone always said, “you look so athletic, you should be a swimmer.” I stopped trying because I was terrified of being under water and hated the feel of water in my nose or ears. I was a proud, self-proclaimed frolicker—content to hang out in the shallow end of the pool or on the sand.
But then I moved. To an island. My parents worried (and still do) all the time about hurricanes and tsunamis decimating this country, and here I was, unable even to float. It seemed meant to be then when a friend asked me if I’d like to take swimming lessons together. My friend can move in water, but isn’t a confident swimmer. Her husband who surfs had given up on teaching her, so we agreed to take classes once a week.
After five weeks of classes, I’ve learned a few things…
We all need a “thing”: Before I started spending Thursday mornings (7-8 am, to be precise) at the pool, I was a creature of habit who never left my desk on workdays. I’ve heard that “desk workers” need to have an active hobby or “thing.” While I walk a fair amount, I’m at my desk sixty percent of the week. It has been refreshing to start the day with friends, jumping into the pool (literally), moving my body, and doing something just for fun, just for me. Swimming relieves my anxiety because it’s either super quiet under water or I’m working so hard to stay afloat that I can’t think about my worries.
Breathe: The first thing we learned in class was how to modulate our breathing. You see, in the past, I drank and inhaled a ton of chlorinated water because I would just inhale UNDER WATER. Now I know to breathe in with my head above water and exhale in water. Did you know that humming while under also ensures you never aspirate or swallow yucky pool water? It’s easier to keep swimming—and to get through most difficult situations—once you figure out when to breathe in and when to exhale.
Don’t overthink it: Part of my struggle with sports is my extreme self-consciousness and overthinking. I hate to learn new things in public, hate to have other people watch me struggle, so it helps a lot that I’m learning this with friends who are practically family. They encourage me not to overthink things—whether it’s swimming underwater or our daily jumps into the pool (the coach says this boosts “water confidence.” We jump off the diving board and it is horrible every single time). Now I’m trying to just do. Just jump, just move, and not wonder what anyone else is thinking about my flailing movements.
Sometimes start at the deep end: I didn’t know what to expect from a swim class, but I was equally excited and mortified because my coach did not coddle us. On day one, we submerged, learned the arm movements of the breaststroke, and jumped off the diving board three times. It was awful, but so good. By week two, I felt zero fear of water and could push off the wall to start, at the deep end of the pool. Still, one thing my friend and I have appreciated is that we’ve never been pushed into the pool. Many people I know learned to swim because they were pushed in, and that can be traumatic. It’s crucial to have people who know how to push you to be your best while respecting your boundaries.
It’s never too late to learn: My friend is in her early forties and I’m almost twenty-four. Even if you’re sixty, you can learn anything you put your mind to. I was convinced I just physically wasn’t strong enough to swim and never would be, but I’m swimming! I’m far from Michael Phelps, but once I ditched that irrational fear (which rears its head every time I’m on the diving board), everything was easier. Now, I think anyone can learn anything.
Sometimes you need a professional: My friend’s surfer husband comes to swim class with us just to get some laps in at the pool, but on his first day, something interesting happened. After he swam a lap, the coach told him “Try exhaling under water; that way you don’t have to hold your breath so long.” It turns out my friend’s husband whose dad taught him to swim still needed tips from our swim coach. In that moment, I was glad to be getting taught by a professional. We’re learning things the right way. All we need to do now is practise.
Swimming is demanding; we come home exhausted and I have to drink copious amounts of chai to stay awake. The next day I’m aching in places I didn’t know I had muscles. But it’s good for me. It doesn’t feel good when I have to get up at five in the morning, but when I’m moving on my own in the water, or we’re laughing in the pool, or eating breakfast together after, it feels worth it.
Can you swim? When did you learn? As a child or an adult? What is one hard thing you’re trying to start doing or keep doing?