I walked out of the safety of the locker room and onto the pool deck and thought to myself: “What was I thinking?!”
That was ten years ago when I had a lofty dream to race in a sport called triathlon. I had been a recreational runner and biker for twenty years and most recently had become adept at pushing and pulling my three young boys on my daily workouts (actually, workouts were more like unpredictable adventures when I was graced with their presence). The only missing piece was swimming as I did not grow up practicing any sort of swim stroke. Swimming for me was really just lying on a floating air mattress getting a tan.
When I walked out of the locker room, I knew only one person on the masters swim club I had joined in hopes of bringing clarity to my very fuzzy triathlon dream. I love the smell of pools and the heat and humidity of the room they posses. I love the beauty, color and warmth of the water. This time, it was fear, excitement, insecurity, and determination that I carried with me as I walked along side the water searching out the one familiar face to connect with.
The pool had 8 lanes and was 25 yards in length. It looked mammoth to me! I quickly learned that the one person I knew was one of the top dogs of this club, and I was not. He introduced me to who would become instrumental in my success, my first swim coach. In this coach I immediately placed all of my vulnerabilities. He returned them with warmth, patience, empathy, listening, and guidance. He explained his role and the workouts he provided on each of the four days per week the club met. He explained that there are skill expectations and etiquette to determine in which lanes we were each to swim. For instance, the former “swimmers” (those who swam in high school and college) swam in the upper lanes (6-8), and everyone else fell into the lower lanes, whether or not they were talented swimmers. I also quickly learned that there was arrogance and entitlement amongst the “swimmers” and they protected their lanes. Certain “swimmers” let me know that I was not welcome, apparently because I was not one of them - a swimmer.
Although I had insecurities about being there, the aura of unwelcome and entitlement stirred up my competitive nature and I became more determined than ever to conquer my swimming challenges and to move to the higher pool lanes the “swimmers” owned. It was because of their negativity I wanted to prove that I had plenty of strength and perseverance to become good enough to swim right next to them.
I climbed into the pool the first time and could hardly swim one entire length (25 yards) without stopping. I felt mortified and embarrassed! Barely making it the first 25 yeards, I then had to turn around and swim back to where my new coach was waiting for me. Ugh! You can imagine my humiliation at my flailing arms, inability to catch my breath or stop myself from sinking, and no apparent coordination of my body as a whole. He could only have been wondering what on earth he was going to do with me.
My commitment at that point was to continue showing up and give my very best effort. And I did. Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday for and hour and a half at 5:15 in the morning I showed up to get in the water and follow the guidance of my coach and anyone else willing to lending a helping hand. I showed up despite the constant, ongoing insecurities and unwelcome messages some people oozed. I showed up when I was tired. I showed up when my body hurt from the previous day’s workout. I showed up as my marriage was ending and I became a single mom of three young boys.
Learning to swim became mediative as the warm water was someplace to escape reality. It also became a place I could laugh; at myself and with my new friends. A piece of advice my coach once gave me as I begged for a solution for my tendency to swim “uphill” (I was a sinker) was to eat more Twinkies. Although I did not take that gem and make a practice of it, I appreciated the humor and willingness to admit defeat (every conventional coaching strategy had apparently been lost on me…)
In spite of the great wisdom I received, my swimming improved! And with my improvement in the pool, I felt stronger and more capable to handle things that might have otherwise felt impossible to manage outside of the pool. I felt a new confidence in setting goals and finding the courage, support and coordination to make them happen.
Sixteen months later I completed my first triathlon. I had prepared to the best of my ability and gave my very best effort. That first triathlon gave me confidence that if I set my mind to something, I can achieve it. It also highlighted the many facets of triathlon I still needed to learn - things like; lakes have weeds and green water and no black lines to follow. But hey, I had come that far, I wasn’t about to give up! Three years later I became a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and began teaching others about the things I didn’t know before that first race. My hope was (and still is) to give them an edge I didn’t have when I first began.
Swimming and everything that it represented became the cornerstone of who I am today. I learned I can count on people and that I can stand up to people who bully me. I learned I can master a new skill by trusting in the process of showing up and doing the work. I learned that being vulnerable in pretty much every sense of the word (walking out on a pool deck full of strangers wearing a swim suit is not easy) provided countless opportunities to trust and grow into a stronger person. I learned that with commitment comes the reward of learning and growth. And I made invaluable friendships that endure today.
And for the record, I did move to the higher lanes. I had opportunity to swim in lane 8, the lane reserved for the “best” swimmers but I didn’t like it. It just wasn’t what I thought it would be, it was cold and lonely. In the end, I preferred the middle of the pool best, lanes 5 and 6. That’s where the warm, supportive, fun and motivating people swam.
Learner and sharer of all things healthy, active, esteem building, growth promoting, witty and Hawaiian