Reflections: On Learning To Swim
“Believe in yourself, not only in swimming, but in life itself. You always have to have fun. You have to have an open mind. If you’re not enjoying it, don’t do it. Life’s too short.” Debbie Meyer
Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. Benjamin Franklin
Swimming is a confusing sport, because sometimes you do it for fun, and other times you do it to not die. And when I’m swimming, sometimes I’m not sure which one it is. Demetri Martin
Swimming Memories: Even though my earliest childhood memories of fun times include long days spent at the beach, I can’t, for the life of me, tell you why/if I didn’t learn how to swim as a child. Spending my early years in Clacton-on-Sea, a seaside town in the UK, meant that we spent many days running up and down on the beach, playing in water and paddling around in the kiddie pool. Even when my family went home to Nigeria in West Africa, at some point, we lived near Bar Beach and could easily walk there to dip our toes in the ocean. We could kick back at the beach and enjoy watching the brave surf and swim out to meet a small boat or a friend. But swimming? Memories of it were always a bit of a blur.
So, when a college friend in the US told me or perhaps she just asked me this question: – Why don’t black people swim? – I was flabbergasted! WTF! “How many black people do you know and where did you learn that ridiculous stereotype?” I fired back at her. She was equally baffled by it as she admitted she’d heard the line for eons and could never bring it up in conversation. The comfort of our friendship allowed her to raise the question, and I’m glad she did because, even though I was rightfully pissed that an entire group was being labeled as non-swimmers, I couldn’t swim! At least, I had no memory of swimming in the ocean or swimming laps in a pool.
As we talked about it, I recalled a memory of being pushed into the deep end of a pool by a friend who thought it was a funny prank. The quick action of a life guard saved me from a watery end, and whatever talent for swimming I might have developed over the years was lost on that day. I think the phobia put any further interest in hanging out poolside to rest, and I retreated from the practice until this conversation arose out of the blue. Determined to put that stupid generalization to bed, I promised her I would one day learn to swim … Life went on, and soon we got busy with exams and the demands of college life.
“Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement – and we will make the goal.” Robert Collier
Being happy outside the pool means fast swimming in the pool. Eric Shanteau
There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning. Jiddu Krishnamurti
Fast forward to many years later: I’m married with twins and the local Y is offering a special class for adult swimmers and even a family swim-time class. Out of the recesses of my buried conversations about swimming, a light bulb flickered on, and I remembered the promise I had made to my friend and myself, and I decided it was time to learn how to swim. I must admit that my motivation had less to do with the benefits of swimming and the possibility of saving myself in the event of a boating event; it had more to do with stabbing a stereotype in the eye and proving yet again that generalizations are stupid at best… “Yeah, whatever!” you might add. But, I had to do it. I signed up for the family swim group, and simultaneously jumped right in to sign up for the adult swim class. Then, I panicked!
If Pigs can Swim, So Can I: But wait, as I considered the source of my anxiety, a funny thought popped into my head: If pigs can swim then so can I! An image of a pig swimming away in a pool made me laugh out loud and buoyed my spirit as I set off to my first lesson still a tad terrified. What bothered me about the whole thing wasn’t quite clear. I stepped into the warm pool wearing my new one piece swimsuit; I was surrounded by about 10-12 non-swimming adults, I wore a swim-cap on my head to protect my hair and we were all tossed colorful plastic life-rings to help us stay buoyant. I held unto mine for dear life. The class routine was simple and safe. We practiced kicks, hand movements and floating with our life savers. The first day was a cinch and I went home convinced that all was well with the world, and soon I’d be swimming with the sharks… Oops! perhaps swimming like one is a better analogy!
The next lesson went well until the teacher told us to let go of the pool’s ledge and submerge our heads under water. I told her I couldn’t do it because letting go meant … well, letting go of my life in the pool! She assured me all will be well but, I wasn’t convinced. That class ended on a sour note. The next time I tried a little and then again the following week. It took another week to let go and something kicked in. Call it self-preservation or a survival instinct because before I knew it, I was kicking away and found I had made my way halfway across the pool. Just as I marveled at my effort, a thought popped in my head and gbam! I was sinking to the bottom. This went on for a few more weeks and when the class and season ended, I was just on the verge of really getting into the groove of swimming
Can I swim? It depends… Writing this post has reminded me that I need to get back in that pool this summer and wash away the remnants of that original fear. The class is a long forgotten memory but, I bet my body will remember what to do. How about you? What skill have you wrestled with? Did you conquer it or give up? Don’t give up!
This post was inspired by a WordPress Prompt: Discover Challenge: Learning – For this week’s challenge, share a story (in whatever medium, format, or genre you choose) about learning something new. What were you trying to accomplish? Was it a success or a flop? Has that knowledge stayed with you, or is it buried deep in your brain’s dusty attic? To help other participants find your response in the Reader, tag your post with #DiscoverWP.
Positive Motivation Tip: Take a chance and learn something new… at least, you’ll have a story to share. 🙂