Monday, 29 November 2010

Headline: American learns to swim in Scotland!

I have had an innate fear of water since I was nine years old. My family went on our one and only family vacation then; to Branson, Missouri. This was before it became known as Little Las Vegas and it was just really a resort town. We stayed at a hotel with a swimming pool. My family was poor (to say the least) so I'd never been in anything like it in my life. We had the odd wading pool that, even laying down, you couldn't possibly drown in, so I thought, "this is cool...."

On went the swimsuit and into the water - the shallow end, since I didn't know how to swim. I remember walking around in it, up to my shoulders. It felt all right and a welcome respite from the hot weather. My mother's husband was sitting on the side of the pool next to where I was walking around. I felt safe. Mistake! I slipped and fell into the water. As naive as I was, I didn't realize all I had to do was stand up. So I fought the water, not knowing what to do. I remember fighting and splashing around. Everyone around me must have known I was in trouble. I remember a black circle closing in and the last thing I remember seeing was someone swimming toward me, underwater, from the other end of the pool.

The next thing I remember is this rushing feeling of warmth and coughing. The man had pulled me out of the pool and hit my back to make me cough up the water that had found its way into my lungs. The man wasn't my mother's husband; he was a stranger. My mother's husband was angry with me. He stood me up by one arm and beat the holy crap out of me right there at the pool in front of God and everyone, telling me how stupid I was for not knowing all I had to do is stand up.

I spent the next 33 years terrified of the water. I've never let myself go enough to trust anyone in the water. No one. Not one single person. I've been in swimming pools. I've been in the ocean. I've been deep enough that the water came up to my neck. But I've never been confident enough to not be touching something (the floor, the sand, the side of the pool, etc). If I get unsure of my footing, I can feel panic rising inside me again and all those terrifying memories of all those years ago come up to the surface again.

A few weeks ago, I just decided - its time. I was recently at a hotel with my family and the boys were swimming like fish (they taught themselves years ago) and I was sitting on the side of the pool, just wading in the water. They were having races and really enjoying themselves. I thought it was well enough time for me to learn so I could join in the fun by summertime.

I got online and looked up local swimming pools (there are community swimming pools here that are all indoor pools). I called a couple and finally found one that had ongoing adult swimming classes. I happened to call at the right moment because the instructor had just finished the class and was near the phone. We discussed the sessions and the cost and I told her I would be there the following week. I was actually growing very excited about it all.

Saturday came and I was up early. Had a good breakfast and drove (with directions from the pool) to the town and finally found the car park. I walked in and told them who I was and why I was there. The girl behind the counter showed me to the locker room and told me the class began at 12pm. I had plenty of time to change and I headed to the shower before the pool.

I was nervous but excited. I was determined I was going to do this. There were four lessons left in that block, then they were down for Christmas and then back up again 15 January. These are half-hour classes. I thought that my goal was to swim before summer - sometime in the next block. I felt I'd give it a try in these last four classes and at least lay the ground work for the next block.

I got into the water and was given a noodle (in case you don't know what that is, its a long, round floatation device), told to put it around my chest and get comfortable in the water. I walked back and forth a few times and the instructor taught me the arm movements for the breast stroke. She showed me the correct placement of my arms and how I should bring them around. So that's what I did for the next few minutes, while she tended to the others in the class. I was told to "bunny hop" and pull myself across the width of the pool with my arms, not walking on the floor of the pool. I did better than that, I held my legs up and pulled myself right across without touching the floor the whole time.

It was time for the class to end. That's the progress I made in my first lesson - bunny hopping across the pool holding a noodle. That may not sound like a lot to you, but for me, it was like walking on the moon.

I went through the week as normal. I'd told a few of my friends that I was going to learn and posted on my Facebook page, too. Lots of support from everyone. It was a good thing!

It snowed on Friday night and I called the pool to see if they were open and if the class was still going on. They were and it was so I got my stuff together and headed to the pool. The roads were all right, no big surprises and I arrived very early. I tried having a cup of tea from the machine but it was awful, so I poured it out and headed to the dressing room.

After I got my suit on, I went out to the pool. I was 20 minutes early. The instructor saw me and gave me a noodle and told me to get myself comfortable in the water again. So while she finished teaching the other class (of children, mind you), I walked across a few times. Then I held my feet up and pushed myself across with my hands. I got tired after a few widths so I pushed the noodle out in front of me and kicked my feet. I was moving! So I did that a few times before our class started.

The instructor got me comfortable with spitting water out of my mouth (which is an area of great fear for a lot of people) and then put armbands on me. These are an adult version of the floaties and are not inflatable but made out of the same stuff that the noodles are made of. She held my hands and had me kicking my feet. She told me I had a "good line" - I guess that meant that my body was flat on top of the water.

She told me I was going to push my way across and if my legs did something, then great - if not, no big deal. So off I went, sort of swimming across the width, wearing armbands, and my feet kicking (like they knew what to do!). That was a huge deal for me.

Then she took the armbands! I begged her not to take them off me but she insisted. She promised me she would not let me sink and she told me just to do it. She knew I could. (That was one of us!) After a few seconds of hideous nerves, I pushed my foot off the side of the pool and I actually swam across the width of that pool!!! I got to the other side and stopped, wiped the water off my face, and stood there in shock. I SWAM!!!! How did that happen??

It wasn't pretty ... and it was quite splashy ... but I was swimming!

She told me to take a rest and she went to the other guys in the pool. Soon enough, she came back to me and showed me a leg movement that goes with the breast stroke (I was using a different one). I put the armbands back on, practised it against the side of the pool and I made it across again, this time with the proper leg movements. Ish.

She was with the other guys in the class and it was coming to the end of our time in the water so I pulled the armbands off and headed across the water again - this time with the right leg movements. I nearly made it to the other side before I had to stop - I was getting tired. At this point, I'd been in the water nearly an hour and my body was not happy!

I sit here two days later, writing this and am still in a sort of state of shock about the whole thing. I can swim. That's something off my bucket list!! And now I get to add something else to it - scuba diving!!! I am unstoppable! =)

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