I am constantly raving here, on Facebook and to anyone I cross paths with that will stand still and listen about swimming. This post is another commercial for it.
The necessary background: I knew how to swim, at least on an elementary basis, when I was a teen. Once I got to college, and then in subsequent working life, I let it fall to the side. I have always had some weight struggles, but it got particularly bad the last couple of years. The other issue is arthritis. I started having strong knee pain in my late 20s, and it really started getting bad after I got married (age 30). The first time I got the knees examined, the orthopedist nearly passed out. I’ll spare all those with weak constitutions the details, but suffice it to say that since I was about 33, two total knee replacements were guaranteed to happen eventually. Almost every conceivable exercise is impossible because it is murder on my knees – even the allegedly joint-friendly elliptical machines cause extreme pain for me. I have long known that water exercise was the ideal solution, but just kept putting it off. I finally joined the YMCA late last year, and signed up for swimming lessons. The lessons began in October. I was in a group class with about 4 other people, 2 of which I knew from church. The 8 lessons passed quickly, and I knew I had to take another class. The second one started just after New Year’s. There were only 2 of us in the class this time. I made tons of progress, but wasn’t convinced I was ready to strike out on my own. Class #3 started in March. There were only 3 of us, me and a married couple where the husband could swim a little, but the wife was completely new. Partway through the class, she developed an ear infection and had to drop out. A couple weeks later, her husband did too, and so the last classes I was alone with the instructor. Progress continued, and I had most of the technique I needed. The problem was, I could not get any distance because I ran out of breath so quickly. When I had my annual physical at the end of April, right before the last session of the class, I asked about that and the doc said it is because almost all of my excess weight is in my belly. There is only a little in my thighs and chest; it’s just all out there in front. Doc says this keeps pressure on the lungs and diaphragm. With this in mind, I thought I needed one more 8-week swim class.
Then the twist. I was the only one to sign up for this session. Folks just don’t seem to be motivated to come to this Y at 8:00 on Saturday mornings. Because I had paid for 8 weeks of group class, the Y let me convert it to 4 private lessons. This weekend was the last of those sessions. The results, at least to me, have been miraculous. Even with this big ol’ belly, I can tread water for a full minute, and can go from one end of the pool to the other in a combo of freestyle and elementary back stroke. I also found out that I cannot sink. I discovered early in the lessons that I could float pretty good, but last week while warming up, I was at the deep end and went down to touch the bottom and pull myself back up. I do this every time I get in the pool just to get my body adjusted to the pool temperature. But this time I let go of the wall, and I floated back up to the surface. This gave me some serious confidence when practicing going end-to-end.
Swimming has a rep for being low-impact exercise, but it really is a total body workout. It’s great cardio, and the arm and leg work help tone the muscles. But beyond all that, it is so much fun! You can go freestyle, backstroke, breast stroke (my favorite), and change it up, in my case even during the same lap. There is a water aerobics class that takes place at 8:30 on Saturday mornings, and all those participants have been watching my progress. Several of them have commented how impressed they are. And there are 2-3 guys that use the 2 lanes of the pool reserved for lap swimming that have also been watching. One of them waited for me to get to the shallow end while I was practicing after the lesson last week to compliment me on my progress. I look forward to getting to the pool so much, and I’m trying to figure how to squeeze more sessions into my compressed work week to keep things moving.
When I talk to people about this adventure, I encounter many people who say things like, “Sounds like fun. I should take some swim lessons, but I’m afraid to put my face in the water.” Let me tell you what I had to overcome. That first swim class back in October – at one point I caught a bit of water in my mouth. Oops. When I could swim as a kid, I had tonsils. I had them removed back in 2003. Without the tonsils there to block the water, it went straight into my lungs. I came up unable to breathe. I gasped so furiously that an alarm went off and the entire pool was evacuated. I had to sit out most of the rest of that first session. “Lesson learned,” I told myself. “Keep water out of your mouth.” I haven’t had any issues with that since then.
My overall point is this: Don’t let fear make decisions for you. If the only thing keeping you from enjoying this wonderful activity is fear of water, don’t let it stop you. There are plenty of places you can take instructions from highly-qualified people who won’t let anything bad happen to you. Just get yourself a good pair of goggles and jump on in!