Sink or Swim

07 May

I’ve wanted to do a triathlon for many years. I love running, and I like biking. The only problem is that I can’t swim.

Or at least that I couldn’t up until very recently.

Learn to Swim






(Someone who is not me swimming.)

I took swim lessons when I was in second grade, but generally hated it more than I hated painful orthodontic procedures. It did not come naturally, I loathed putting my face under water, and in high school I even had an irrational fear of water itself (sprung in part out of reading Seventh Son).

This winter I took a beginner’s swim class, and I’ve now graduated from “water incompetent” to “mildly aqua challenged”. In the process I had a number of fun experiences besides learning the crawl and backstroke:

Under the Sea– Before taking this class, I never opened my eyes under water. I think this contributed a lot to my general lack of comfort in the pool. After my first swim lesson it dawned on me that swim goggles would be a great investment. The first time I went under with the goggles I realized that watching the sub-surface scenery is part of what makes swimming so fun and appealing. If your eyes are always closed when you go underwater, you miss out on all the underwater tea parties! (Not to mention that it’s easier to overcome a fear of drowning if you can see the bottom of the pool and recognize that it’s not getting any closer).

Water Smells Bad – I’ve always had a fear of water going up my nose, and I think this is why I never liked putting my face under water. Well, in this class I had to get over my insistence on holding my nose every time I dunked my head pretty fast. In the first lesson, we practiced “bobs” (dunking your head repeatedly while exhaling underwater and inhaling above water). When I asked the instructor how to prevent water from going up my nose he said “you know, I’m sorry, but in this class you might get a little bit of water up your nose”.

I’ve talked to several friends about this, and they all insist that water doesn’t go up their nose unless they breath in underwater. They politely and condescendingly explain to me that I must be breathing water up my nose, because that’s the only way water can get in there, and of course they know better how I’m breathing than I do.

Well, after taking this course, I’m convinced that they are wrong. I can dunk my head now, and I still feel the water entering my nose in various positions. Growing up swimming and learning to just deal with water being in your nose and at the back of your throat is an important part of learning to swim. Of course, if you gently dunk your head and hold your breath, water won’t go up your nose… But I also think that there are many situations where you might do everything else right and still get water up your nose, and I’m just not totally used to it yet (though I have developed a bit of a tolerance).

A Whole New World – Halfway through the class I decided to try opening my eyes under water without goggles. It seemed that this practical experience might come in handy if I were ever on a sinking boat without my goggles. I finally forced myself to do it, and I was amazed by what I saw (almost as amazed as when I first opened my eyes with the goggles). The world looked so strange and wiggly… It was definetely harder to see distinct shapes and people. What surprised me the most was that everything was so BRIGHT. I even asked around the class to see if anyone who could explain to me why the underwater would be so much brighter than the air. Some people suggested that it was an effect of reflection, and Paul went as far as to suggest that I was actually having visions of the future.

It wasn’t until I was on my way to my car in the parking lot that Paul said “Maybe it was brighter because your goggles are tinted?”

I felt pretty dumb after that, but it was the good kind of dumb where you can’t stop laughing at yourself.

For Mature Audiences Only – Will, a friend who happened to see one of our swim lessons, had the “call of the week” when he pointed out that Paul looked like he was practicing giving head when he did his bobs.

It’s Not That Funny– One of the younger class participants (maybe 19 years old) found it necessary to approach me EVERY SINGLE CLASS and tell me that he felt like he could fall asleep on the water. He would swim or float over to me, say “I think I could just fall asleep on the water.. no I seriously could” in a slow southern drawl, and then float away as if the repeated demonstration of his tranquility would convince me of his aqua-narcolepsy.

The same student once accidentally poked me in the nipple when he was practicing his front kick, and my natural response was of course to let out a shrill feminine scream. He thought that was hilarious, and for some reason from then on would periodically approach me in the pool to pat and/or gently caress my shoulder. I’m usually not a big fan of strangers touching me with my shirt off, but honestly this minor discomfort paled in comaprison to listening to him talk about falling asleep on the water every time I saw him.

Swimming is About Comfort in the Water – Last week I passed the swim test at the end of the course. It consisted of swimming 3-pool lengths; one length had to be front crawl, one had to be backstroke, and the third was the swimmer’s choice. This was *hard*, but it was also something I couldn’t have imagined doing four months ago, so I guess I now feel that I know how to swim. More importantly, I am much more comfortable around the water. I can jump in and swim around and put my head under the water without thinking too much about it. I think that’s a good basis for whatever I do in the sport in the future.

Overall this has been a great learning experience because it was challenging and attainable with measurable results. I highly recomend it for anyone else who has been meaning to try it out.


Posted by on May 7, 2007 in No Easy Days



7 responses to “Sink or Swim

  1. zappoman

    May 8, 2007 at 7:40 am

    Sounds like a great swim class… and it sounds like you’re making progress…

    I guess I take my comfort in the water for granted… even though I think I am a slow swimmer, and I wish I could swim much faster (like world class long distance triathletes who can swim 1.2 miles in only 24 minutes!).

    Today I went swimming at the YMCA with my youngest daughter (who is 4yrs10months)… and I was pleased that she was mostly paying attention to my instructions and practicing her swimming technique. I should remember that she’s actually quite a good swimmer (especially when you consider she isn’t even 5 yrs old yet)… She’s always receives lots of compliments from life guards and pool staff.

    I should be happy that my comfort in the water, is already being passed on to the next generation.

    But, I promise not to ever tell anyone that I am so comfortable in the water that I could “just fall asleep”… that’s just rude. 😉

  2. zappoman

    May 8, 2007 at 7:43 am

    Oh yeah… if you ever get Scuba certified, you get to do all kinds of fun underwater mask drills.

    Basic Scuba certification only requires that you fill your mask with water (while underwater) and then breath out of your nose to fill the mask with air so you can see again.

    But when you go for Master diver certification, you get to do fun tricks like taking off your mask completely, and replacing it, and clearing it. I got to do this in 45F water with about 2 ft visibility… although visibility without your mask is always 0 ft, so what does that matter? Fun. 😉

  3. halfawake

    May 8, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    I promise not to ever tell anyone that I am so comfortable in the water that I could “just fall asleep”…

    Hmm… I don’t think he was trying to show off or anything. He just thought it was extremely clever (I guess it was sort of clever… it was just the repetition that got to me).

    Scuba seems fun! Then I wouldn’t have to worry about water going up my nose right? I’m thinking of taking an “advanced beginners” class in 6 months or so… Maybe I can look into scuba after that.

  4. weirleader

    May 11, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    water up the nose – I HATE that! It’s the one thing I’ve never been able to get used to, even though I swim just fine. Everybody tells me to just blow out through my nose gently, but that lasts all of 10 seconds and then it’s plunging right back in again!

    It’s less of a problem with regular swimming (though I suppose I cheat and hold my head a bit higher than I should), but it really is a pain when diving.

    But congrats on getting through it!

  5. LK

    March 18, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    You sound so much like me. I loathe the smell of pool water, it gets in my nose, I hate the feeling, and I hate the eyes open in water thing.

    I have a narrow face so goggles often don’t work out.

    I can swim though. I just hate it. But I love it when I’m not in a pool. I spent all day at discovery cove in orlando hanging out in the tropical river pool which was 85 degrees and not yucky to be in . Swam all day – did at least 5 laps (1.25 miles total) around.

  6. halfawake

    March 18, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Sounds fun. Your comment reminds me that I haven’t had a chance to go swim since last summer. I’m looking forward to warm weather and a chance to try it out again.


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