The journey of 750 meters begins with one stroke

“It’s not brave if you’re not scared.” Okay, but what if the thing you’re scared of is a totally banal activity that most people can easily do, in fact even your six year old can do it, but you are just kind of an anxiety-ridden head case about it? Is it less brave to be scared of a non-scary thing? Or is it more brave if the non-scary thing completely scares the living daylights out of you but you do it anyway? If it’s the latter, then I’ve been really fucking brave lately.

It’s so embarrassing that I don’t even want to say it at all, so I’m just going to rip off the band-aid: two weeks ago I went to the lap swim at my community center and I was really scared and freaking out and it went even worse than I expected.

rusmore pool
About this bad.

It’s kind of ridiculous that I’m this afraid of swimming, because I spent about 90% of this summer in the water. I love the beach way too much to be this incompetent a swimmer, and every summer I vow that this is the year I work on getting my swimming skills to the next level, i.e., one level above “probably wouldn’t drown if I fell off the dock at this lake.” I think this yearly vow started three summers ago, when Lucy started being able to pass the swim test at the beach and expecting me to swim out to the deep end with her. I held out as long as I could, but this summer I couldn’t really claim that my giant six year old needed me by his side at every moment, and I was out of excuses. She was waiting for me on that dock and I had to get myself there, preferably without having a full blown panic attack on the way.

This looks way too simple to be causing me this much anxiety.

Lucy and I ended up having a lot of fun together out on that dock this summer, but the journey to and from wasn’t pretty. I tried to at least appear calm, partially for her sake, but mostly because I was convinced that not being calm is what makes you drown, and also that putting your face in the water makes you drown, and looking down makes you drown, and realizing that you’re out farther than you can stand makes you drown, and going too fast makes you drown, but stopping for too long will also make you drown and even though your dad was practically an Olympic swimmer, and being a strong swimmer allegedly runs in your family, and even though there are four lifeguards here, you are definitely about to drown. Thankfully, my inner monologue doesn’t have subtitles, and as far as anyone knew, I was a regular middle aged lady who just really likes to dog paddle.

Summer ends (NOOOOOO) and I decide that now is finally the time to put some effort into this. The community center down the street from my kids’ school has lap swim every afternoon, and I go on a Tuesday, and I ask the guy at the front desk how it all goes, because my nerves have gotten to me so badly at this point that I am basically expecting an army of pitchfork-carrying Michael Phelps clones to chase me out of the building because I clearly don’t belong here. He tells me that it’s very chill and that it always works out fine and I shouldn’t worry and here are some goggles. After I get changed, I come out of the locker room into the pool area, and, of course, there’s a mom of a kid in Dash’s class sitting there on the bleachers. Yay! I was super hoping for a witness. She works at a preschool and is there with some of the kids doing a group lesson. I make sure to tell her it’s my first time trying lap swim, and hope that my face is conveying what I’m thinking: “Please don’t watch me don’t watch me don’t watch me pleasepleaseplease.”

This is what that looks like, just so you know.

I walk over to the pool, put on my goggles, get in the water, and even though I’m literally shaking from nerves, a tiny burst of optimism hits me, and I tell myself I can do this, it’s just stroke, stroke, breathe, and who knows? Maybe I’ll even be surprisingly good at it, like bocce. Okay, you got this, go!

Oh wow. It was not at all like bocce.

Here’s how my first lap went: Stroke stroke breathe, stroke stroke breathe, stroke stroke OH MY GOD THE BOTTOM OF THE POOL DROPS OUT LOOK HOW DEEP IT IS, flail, gasp, tread, resist grabbing the rope, dog paddle to the wall, cling to it for dear life and try to calm down. Okay, calm (ish), try again, just don’t open your eyes for the deep part, stroke stroke breathe, stroke stroke IT FEELS LIKE I’M BREATHING WATER IS THE LIFEGUARD WATCHING I AM 100% ABOUT TO DROWN, okay, face out of the water, don’t look down, just make your way back, you can stand now, okay, done.

So that was lap one.

I managed to get across and back four more times, with essentially the same results, and then called it a day. Five laps total, I had my face in the water about 20% of the time, and never made it an entire length without freaking out. It was bad. Really bad. And it was humbling and discouraging, but also weirdly exhilarating. Being this bad means I can only get better, and since I feel like I keep getting worse at running no matter how hard I try, it’s refreshing to feel like I can improve at something.

I went back a week later and did ten laps; my goal that day was to do one entire lap without freaking out and stopping and I managed it on the very last one. I went back today and did 15 laps and only freaked out once. I am going back tomorrow and am kind of excited to see how it goes. I’m not good at it, but I kind of love it; in fact, I’m maybe looking for a sprint triathlon to shoot for next summer. Of course then I’d have to get past any anxieties about open water, and colder water,  and swimming in a crowd. And at some point I’d probably need to train for the cycling segment, because as of right now, this sums up my ability to bike in a triathlon:

assumed I could
I have time.