I’ve long said that my fear is water. You would think that someone who is SCUBA certified would have successfully conquered that fear. Alas, even after SCUBA diving in the open Pacific (as well as white water rafting one of the more dangerous rivers in the world), I still had to admit I had a healthy fear of water. You see, I couldn’t swim. How does a person go SCUBA diving without swimming? Well, quite easily actually. To dive, you really only move your legs back and forth. And anytime I’ve ever fallen out of the boat while rafting, the life jacket and some paddling around is usually sufficient.
To say I couldn’t swim meant: I could do some bastardization of freestyle in an incredibly inefficient manner enough to get me from one end of the pool to the other. After a lot of splashing and thrashing about, I would grasp the edge of the pool and gulp air from the enormous effort I had just put in. I had always been rather embarrassed by my lack of skill but until this past summer it had never really concerned me. During a trip to the beach, I managed to get caught in a riptide for the first time in my life. Ignoring advice to swim parallel to the shore, I panicked in the moment and began a desperate attempt to swim back in. After a lot of struggle and a few scary moments of thinking I may not make it, I realized that not being able to swim efficiently when choosing to spend as much time around water as I do was probably a bad choice.
I signed up for beginner swim lessons at my local pool and was delighted to find after a short assessment that I was more of an intermediate swimmer (some of the beginners were visibly hesitant to even get in to the pool, so clearly there are people out there with a bigger fear of water than me). The class met 2 times for 4 weeks. We worked on various strokes, including freestyle, backstroke, side stroke, and the breaststroke. I was amazed to discover that I actually was pretty ok at the backstroke; I had never even tried it before! I was completely shyte with the breaststroke and never got to a point where I didn’t need a noodle to assist me. But freestyle still eluded me and it quickly become apparent what my downfall was entirely with water: I didn’t like having my face in the water.
Sure, I dive and go underwater, but that’s with an oxygen supply. Swimming freestyle with the correct breathing technique was what was holding me back. That was why the backstroke was so easy for me; I kept my face out of the water the entire time. And trying to freestyle with my face out of the water was simply inefficient and getting me nowhere.
When warming up or during “free time” at the end of the first 5 classes, I would practice my backstroke because that’s what I felt comfortable with. However, with a number of people out during the 6th class and given the opportunity to spend the entire class working on what we chose, I realized that if I wanted to get better, I had to force myself out of my comfort zone. I practiced breathing a good bit with the kickboard and then slowly tried to work on breathing while swimming. All along, my instructor was giving me feedback and things to keep working on.
And then something clicked! Just like it did with skiing, all of a sudden I simply began doing it! And it felt…right. Honestly, I got such an electric jolt in that moment, I almost stopped to call out to my instructor “Hey! I’m SWIMMING!”
Immediately upon getting that down, I felt truly comfortable in the water for the first time in my life. And, by feeling comfortable, everything else went much more easily. I discovered that when I wasn’t convinced I was about to drown every moment, swimming could be quite pleasant.
Don’t get me wrong. I still have a long way to go. I can barely finish a lap. But as the pool is rather near my house, I hope to continue to go back regularly and practice. I may even take another class; eventually I would like to swim laps like competitive swimmers and do that dive thingy where they duck under and push off the edge of the pool to start a new lap. I know, I know. Small steps. But you know me! I’m always trying to up the ante!
So, what is YOUR biggest fear? Have you conquered it?