Take to the Water

It’s been a long and endless struggle, trying to find an aerobic exercise that I can do, enjoy, and doesn’t injure me. I’ve always had a problem with stitches when running, and have tried every trick in the book until I finally acceded that it just wasn’t for me. Rowing was a wonderful, exhilarating 6 months, but it led to back injury and 2+ years of physiotherapy. Cycling is fun, but I don’t have the motivation to try it seriously. There’s always climbing – climbing, that I go back to time and time again, more than a hobby, a passion, and something that I’ll never give up. But I wanted to do something more. I was getting unfit, and that was impacting the climbing, and I needed a way to kick myself out of the slump.

When we moved to our first flat in November 2013, we were less than a mile from the indoor swimming pool that I used to go to as a child. With flumes and a wave machine, and all sorts of exciting diversions for children, I’d forgotten that it also had a decent 25m training pool. As Simon used to swim regularly, he fancied getting back into it. It was probably only mid-2014 that we braved the pool for the first time – for me, I hadn’t been swimming for over 5 years, and hadn’t ever experienced wearing goggles over my lenses so I could miraculously see in the pool. That first swim was hard. I couldn’t breathe properly, my body had no idea how to react in the water, and an hour later I’d struggled through 20 lengths of very slow and deformed breaststroke.

But I persevered, and went once or twice a month. Then the winter came, and it got cold, and the motivation to walk to and from the pool in the chilly darkness just wasn’t that great. Body Balance classes still helped my mind and body relax and get stronger, and I didn’t have to brave snow with wet hair, but the pool was a distant memory.

Until 6 weeks ago. When we moved back to my parent’s house to save for a deposit, I wanted to keep up Body Balance, but I also do more. In the week I had off between my old and new jobs, I started going to my uni gym to use their pool. I hadn’t been in since doing some rowing capsize practice, but was intrigued by the fact it could be 25m or 50m – the only 50m pool in Surrey. If it had been good enough for Olympic athletes, it’d be good enough for me. A brief conversation with the membership team highlighted that the Alumni Membership would be much more cost-effective if I did at least two classes or activities a week. So I signed up, and committed. If I’m paying, I’m going.

I’m now swimming at least twice a week. I started with a goal of 40 x 25m lengths (1000m total) of breaststroke, slowly increasing to include one in ten lengths front crawl. Then I upped it to 60 lengths. I’m now at 60 lengths, every 5th and 10th front crawl. I can breathe well. My legs no longer hurt. My time is cutting down by a minute or two each session. And yesterday my mum joined me (she in the slow lane not getting her hair wet – but better than nothing!), and was astonished by my newfound ability. I’d never been a strong swimmer, and had numerous lessons as a child. Overcoming a fear of the deep end, trying to get my wonky body to understand the strokes. It had always been a battle, and I was nothing like my sister who took to the water like a fish. But somehow, in adult life, I’ve taught myself again. I’ve developed good form, and I can only see myself getting better. I can swim for an hour without fear of injury, stitch, or pain. And each week I can feel my body getting stronger, leaner, and fitter. Being able to focus my mind on each length, and then once a week follow the swim with a Body Balance class, I’m finding a place of concentration that helps any stresses disappear. It sounds hippy, but when you get your body right, your mind will follow, and life will be better. If you can’t find an exercise that works for you, I challenge you to take to the water.

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