A silver lining to the cloud of rehab that continues to gloom above me has been swimming. With the goal of participating in my first triathlon next year, I figured rehab was the perfect opportunity to get into the water. Sure, I could thrash my way through an event if I had to but with extra training time on my hands I had the opportunity to get back into swimming on the right foot.
I grew up in the water. I used to beg whoever was around to take me to the lake or beach and when I got older, I followed in my mum’s footsteps and became a lifeguard and a swimming instructor. I loved teaching and guarding but, looking back, I wasn’t actually a big swimmer. I liked lifesaving skills, teaching others, and playing in the water but I was never a “swimmer” in the Michael Phelps sense of the word. I wasn’t the best technically nor was I fast but I could spend hours splashing around.
After moving overseas where my lifeguarding and teaching qualifications weren’t valid, I lost touch with the water. I swam occasionally but I discovered cycling and running and followed that passion fervently. It has only been since I got injured and have been unable to cycle or run that I was urged to consider swimming again. Reluctantly, I went to the local pool and timidly got in to a lane between what looked like Missy Franklin and Chad le Clos. An hour later, I hadn’t sunk to the bottom of the pool and realized I still loved swimming as much as I did when I was kid.
Pretty soon the familiar smell of chlorine had taken over my shower but, after teaching swimming for so long, I could tell my strokes were rusty! I had the basics but I didn’t think it was enough so I signed up for a Total Immersion freestyle course. Over two days and five hypothermic-inducing pool sessions, I started to rebuild my freestyle stroke. I went in with the decision to start from scratch and after only gliding for the first few hours I realized it was going to be a longer process than I thought. By the end of the first day, I had started to learn how to balance in the water, how to become more streamlined, and grasp how inefficient my current style of swimming was. More importantly, I started to figure out Total Immersion wasn’t just a new technical approach to swimming, it was a completely different mindset.
Day two, clad in two swimsuits, I was a little more prepared for the arctic-like conditions of the pool and a little bit more aware of what was in store. I was basically learning how to swim all over again and any notion of what I thought freestyle was before was out the window. The fact that I could splash my way through a couple kilometres in the pool meant squat here; I could barley glide more than a few meters and each time the next step was introduced things seem to fall to pieces.
It would have been easy to get frustrated but I was surrounded by a like-minded multi-lingual emergency surgeon, an archeologist turned fantasy non-fiction writer, and a few other interesting students who were in the same boat and kept the mood light. We all struggled and shivered along together, giggling at how difficult the simple exercises were. Our coach was equally easy-going about the tasks at hand, endlessly patient and constantly encouraging as she tweaked a hand, moved an arm, or demonstrated a new technique for the third or fourth time. At the end of the course, we were all individually filmed (as were were at at the beginning) and were informed we would receive the videos along with an analysis. To be honest, I thought by the end of the course I would be “swimming” but 48 hours later and I could barley glide let alone breathe so I wasn’t super keen on being filmed.
I made my way up and down the 25m pool under the gaze of the camera, desperately trying to amalgamate everything I had learned over the weekend. Any onlooker would question that I had taught swimming lessons for over 6 years or that I spent my childhood summers in a bathing suit as I sluggishly moved along, stopping and standing to breathe every 5 or so meters. Unexpectedly, however, literally around 20 meters into the first length something “clicked.” For a fleeting 10 seconds, my physical movements were finally in sync with what my brain had been learning. I wasn’t exactly swimming but I could finally see and feel all the bits and pieces coming together.
The aim of a Total Immersion course is to teach the mindset, basic skills and exercises so you’re empowered to transform your freestyle at your own speed. Our coach said on more than one occasion that we would be going slower before we would be going faster. After freezing for a whole weekend, I can attest that’s the understatement of the century but, if rehab has taught me anything, it’s that her words weren’t just literal. Sometimes stepping back can be a foot in the right direction.