What I Think About While Swimming

I swam competitively in High School my Freshman year. Which is sort of overstating things because I was on JV and I usually lost my races, but I did compete and I did have practice twice a day so I suppose that’s something. My sister swam all four years and was on the varsity team and actually went to state and I thought if she can do it why can’t I? The answer is: Because I am not very good at swimming.

After that brief foray into competitive swimming I mostly stuck to flopping around in pools and lakes, but a couple of years ago I decided to try swimming laps again. Swimming is a pretty great workout because it’s full body, low impact, and you can’t talk to anyone while you’re doing it. It winds up being very meditative for me because my brain eventually blanks out. I was also training for a competition that was very different from my High School swim meets, the Transplant Games of America. A once every two year event that celebrates transplant recipients and their donors. It’s fun and inspiring and I wanted to do well.


As a living donor I compete in a separate division than donor recipients and it is a much smaller division. Which is great, but I was very afraid of coming in last place. I needed the win. I needed to feel like I was good at something, anything. I started “training” for the race and at first I could only make it 25 yards without stopping which had little to do with pain or discomfort and more to do with acknowledging that I had indeed just covered 25 yards in the pool. I slowly worked up to swimming 50 yards at a time, then 100 yards and then I sort of plateaued.

In High School there were mornings when all we did was distance work. Which meant we would warm up with maybe a 200 and then do a few 500s. I was lousy at this and would stop all the time because I just couldn’t get my body on board to swim 500 yards without stopping. As an adult things didn’t really change. I did my best to train by myself for the swim meet at the games and did ok in competition, getting silver in all three events. Much better than dead last, and it was fun!

And then I stopped swimming again. I don’t really know why exactly, I like swimming, it’s a fun exercise for me. But I don’t like driving to the pool, changing into a bathing suit, taking a quick rinse before jumping in, or jumping in. Once I’m in I am happy. And when I get out I am happy, but everything leading up to it is like a weird form of self-induced torture. My husband tells me this is normal and so I do everything I can to force myself to just get in the car because that’s sometimes the biggest hurdle.

About six months ago I started swimming regularly again and one morning I decided that it was stupid that I couldn’t swim 500 yards without stopping and so I did it. I got in, pushed off from the wall, did a couple of quick dolphin kicks and then pretended I was a metronome and ticked off the strokes one by one. I have a watch that measures how far I’ve gone which is great because I inevitably look at my watch and think, “Oh, I must have 25 yards left to go!” When in reality I have only gone 350 yards. It’s cruel every time and I’m disappointed every time. That first time I finished the 500 without stopping I was in a state of shock. I just stared at my watch for a solid minute wondering if it had miscalculated the distance. But it hadn’t.

Since then, I always warm up with a 500. I’m amazed every time I do it. It was a big mental hurdle to overcome and I’m grateful I finally did it because I might even be getting better at swimming now. Practice makes decent.


Yesterday, after I noticed I’d manage to swim 1900 yards (a 500 to start and then other kicking drills and 100 yard workouts) and realized the pool was empty except for me, I decided to swim another 500 yards. I dropped underwater, kicked off the wall and started swimming. After 50 yards I considered stopping but decided to go at least 100 yards. Then I started evaluating my physical condition after each 50. How are my lungs? Fine. How about the arms? A little tired but fine. Legs? Good, fine. Are the turns good? They could be better but I’m not inhaling water so I’m fine. After a few check-ins my brain started to slip a bit.

Am I waterproof? Are we all waterproof? Why do my fingertips get pruney but the rest of my body doesn’t? Am I water resistant? I keep drinking water but I’m not sweating so am I slowing myself down with water weight? Or am I sweating but I just can’t tell because I’m underwater? Why can’t I hold my breath longer? Sometimes I kick off the wall and try to not take a breath right away and I feel a pain in the bottom of my lungs that feels like death is nigh and then I panic and I gasp for a breath and then I’m fine again. Do I really need to breathe this much? Is the lifeguard judging my stroke? Do my hands look weird? What should I make for dinner? Why can I only sing one line of this song I was just listening to on the way here and have listened to many times before? If I swim too close to the drain will I get sucked in? When I die, what little trinket of mine will be cherished by someone who loves me?

After swimming 2400 yards in one workout I was exhausted. I felt like a noodle. I made my way to the shower and scrubbed off the chlorine and scratched my head until it hurt. It’s the farthest I’ve gone in one workout since High School and it felt like an accomplishment. Until I got home and wound up resting my head on my desk for awhile because my body was broken. In a good way. I see other women at the pool, all different ages and abilities and I want to be a person who swims forever. I feel strong in the water, slow, but strong.


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