Now, swimming is seriously out of my comfort zone. There are so many aspects of swimming that concern me: first, there's the breathing issue.
Many, many years ago (we're talking 7th grade) I had a summer of asthma attacks. They started with an upper respiratory infection of some sort that I got at summer camp and were exacerbated by some environmental allergen (tree pollen?) in the upstate New York and Quebec Provence air that summer. The deep coughing fits that marred the end of my summer camp stay were followed by intensely frightening asthma wheezing attacks during my family's Canadian vacation. I still remember the panic of gasping for air, trying to take it in and my lungs just not responding to my desperate need. And then, just as quickly as the whole asthma trouble began, it left. By the next summer I was fine.
Except when I went swimming.
For years I retained no trace of asthma except when I over-exerted myself in the water. I took to floating, to sunbathing, to bobbing up and down, but I would not swim. If I ever felt out of breath in the water, panic set in. So I kept myself calm. For twenty-five years.
Which leads to the second swimming concern: swimming.
Since I have made concerted efforts through the years to stay calm, to not swim, to not over-exert myself in water, I cannot swim. I mean, I don't drown, but I just don't swim. Technically, I know *how*. After all, from the time I was itty bitty until 7th grade, I had camp swim lessons. But for the past twenty-five years I have. not. swum. I just don't do it.
And of course the third swimming concern: bathing suit.
Since I don't swim, I don't have a swim suit. Oh, sure, I have a few of what might be listed in catalogs as "bathing suits" but these two-piece things are not actually meant for moving. They are meant to even out a tan, to stay respectable in a hotel hot tub, and take the kids to the beach. In my pre-kid life, back when I was a freedom loving hippie living at a dance and music retreat on the south shore of Massachusetts, I didn't care about suits at all. Back then the only thing I and the rest of the crew brought into the water was a beer, or a trombone, or flowers for our hair.
But injury calls for courage. Conquering of fears. Dipping feet in the water.
Los Angeles Valley College, as it turns out, is only a few miles from my house and my office. There are open lap hours conveniently set up in the evening, just when I leave work, and also on the weekends. And it's cheap! $45 for a 10-use pass during open lap hours. One day I decided to don my sports bra and bikini bottoms and splash in.
Goggles, as it turns out, are recommended.
Swimming, my friends, is not easy. Each time I got to the end of the lane (25 meters), I had to rest and catch my breath. I had to work hard to keep my eyes clear (didn't yet have goggles) and get from one end to the other. Each time I did, it took a full 5 minutes to breath easy again. And then I'd head back.
Now I have goggles, though still no official suit. My hair is dry from the chlorine. I need that most fashionable of hats, a swim cap. But, this past Sunday I enrolled in swim lessons. I've gone to the pool three times this week and already feel myself getting stronger. I still have to stop every 25 meters, sometimes sooner, but it's more because now I am focusing intensely on form.
It's a relief to walk away after an hour of exertion and not feel pain in my foot. It's also a relief to have an exercise to replace running and spin for a while. Moving my body has become an essential need for my personal happiness. It feels good to confront this long standing fear of water - I can feel it melting away. I'm actually looking forward to going to the pool. Yesterday it was the highlight of my day. Each stroke takes enormous concentration, but I am also trying to bask in the eerie silence as my head ducks below the surface between each breath.
And there is the beauty. I wasn't expecting it. In the evening, the golden setting sun illuminates the pool and the other swimmers in a magical way, water spraying into the air with each kick, the flags above the lanes swaying softly in the air. I might be falling a little bit in love.