Growing up we always lived near the beach because my father was in the Navy. We lived in Guam when I was 5 to 7, then Hawaii when I was 7 to age 10 so island life and beach life was our way of living. Every summer we took swim lessons, went to the pool, and took day long family trips to the beach every weekend where we would boogie board, body board, swim, and snorkel depending on the surf.
When I was 6 years old I remember sneaking into the deep end of the pool where you had to be at least 8 years old to venture without an adult. I was being very stealth and staying close to the lane line so that if I got in trouble I could just pretend “oops, how did I get here? I was just swimming and came up for air in the deep end!” The lifeguard caught me, blew her whistle at me, and told me I needed to get back into the shallow end, when my MOM came to my rescue. She let the lifeguard know she had been watching and would watch me the whole time and that although I was underage I was a good swimmer and could keep up on my own in the deep end. The lifeguard gave me a test- I had to tread water for, I dunno, 1 minute? It felt like FOREVER and it was not easy toward the end, but I remember being so determined to not give up. I absolutely HAD to pass this test so I could swim in the deep end! Finally time was up and I had passed with flying colors! Free to swim all OVER the deep end! It was one of the best days of my little 6 year old life.
Fast forward to our random stint in Ohio at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. I had aged out of swim lessons, but still wanted to be in the pool so I joined the base swim team- the Flying Fish. At my first meet I DQ’d both events I did where you had to start from the blocks. They make you wait bent over for so long, I could feel myself losing my balance and I stood up, which didn’t help, and then I stepped in the pool. BOTH. FREAKING. TIMES! By the second meet I had gotten it down, but was probably also the last person off the blocks!
After two years in Ohio my dad retired and we moved to Charleston, SC. I was not really interested in being on the swim team because they met in the mornings instead of at night like at Wright Pat. I still went to the pool and played and swam in the ocean, but nothing serious. When I went to college our university had a great pool that I swam in once. I was totally winded the entire time and could barely stay awake in class the rest of the day. Then when I was living Paris and working for an American company, I was going to the States a lot for training and stayed in a hotel with a pool. I picked up the cheapest one-piece suit I could find that fit- a youth large that was actually too small, but no one can see your wedgie when you are in the pool so I didn’t care. I would do laps and grannie style water aerobics. There was a pool in my neighborhood in Paris, but I was nervous and embarrassed to go because my walk was weird and everyone who had been to pools in Paris all told me they are so crowded you can barely swim anyway.
Fast forward to me living in Albany for a couple years and finally acting and going to swim at my gym’s pool one night. There was one lane open because there were swim lessons. There were anywhere from 2-5 of us sharing the same lane over the course of an hour. Finally the kid lessons ended and I thought I would get to have a lane to myself when someone came over to kick me out saying the masters swim team was meeting and they needed all the lanes. He also mentioned that he had seen me swim and that I could keep up with the group so I was also welcome to join them for the night. I stuck around and for the session. I explained to the coach I had an issue with my walk, but we both agreed that luckily you don’t have to be good at walking to swim. The coach made me feel comfortable and I thought it would be a good way for me to commit to working out in the pool so I signed up for the rest of the session.
I did a couple sessions of masters swim and then the gym stopped offering it, but added a triathlon training course. When I heard that they were going to kick off the training with an indoor triathlon and that I could use the elliptical instead of running, I joined. This group of people was so much more fun than the masters swim group and those of us who kept in touch started training at a lake with a local triathlon club. Once I was got into the lake I really got hooked. Swimming in nature brought me back to those years growing up one the beach. There is something indescribably liberating and calming by being fully supported and having no fear of falling. I can push my self as hard as I can. I don’t have to think about picking up my feet and watching out for bumps, or cracks, or slanted ground. When my legs are taken out of the equation, like they are when I swim, I no longer have a disability. I am just another person in the water.
At the end of the tri training session we did our indoor triathlon: swim as many laps as you can in 5 minutes, bike as many miles as you can in 30, and run a 5K (in my case use the elliptical for a 5K distance). It was fun. It was challenging. And somehow I managed to “fall” on the stationary bike, but that is a story for another day.
When our tri training at the gym was over, I joined a triathlon club and swam with them every week at the lake. I signed up for the one mile cable swim at the Betsy Owens Lake Placid event and the 2.5K at the Lake George Open Water Swim and loved competing in them. I have been hooked ever since.
Whenever I am in the water whether it is a lake or a pool I always incorporate something fun that I would have done as a kid. I might do a few flips underwater, float on my back like a starfish, see how long I can swim on the floor of the pool, even do a handstand. I do something that makes me smile so that my workout feels like less of a chore and more of something that brings me joy.