a blog by Ellen Davies

Trying something new: Swimming

Trying something new: Swimming

When is the last time you tried something new?


I have started swimming laps at the Y. It’s not pretty. But I’m doing it. And I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I like it.


I know you’re thinking, “So, Ellen, what inspired you to start swimming?”


I’m so glad you asked! Grab another cup of coffee and I’ll tell you the whole story.


My inspiration for this? The girls. I put both girls on the Y swim team as soon as they could dog paddle across the pool, and today they are both strong swimmers. I have spent hours at the pool waiting out swim practices and watching swim meets. I’ve always had this thought in the back of my mind: Maybe I could do this, too?


However, I lacked to confidence to try. Plus, the pool intimidated me. I never looked it in the eye—usually I just gave it the side-eye as I walked by. The pool is scary. Bathing suits are required. Also, there’s water. And I have a fear of water.


This is a fear I have never admitted or fully acknowledged. I just stayed away from the water. I’m happy to sit in a chair and watch you in the water, and maybe I’ll wade in to my knees, but I’m not interested in swimming or body surfing. No, thanks.


But the thought kept coming back. Maybe. Maybe I could do that?


A few years ago, I finally asked the girls to help me. Sheepishly I asked if they would come to the pool and teach me how to swim laps. This led to one hilarious afternoon in the pool with Rebecca, where she would do things like grab my feet and pull me backwards if she saw me doing something wrong. She probably still has the bruise from where she smacked her forehead with her palm, especially when she saw me swim breast stroke. “Mom, what are you doing with your legs?” she asked, after pulling me backwards by my feet.


“I was swimming breast stroke until you tried to drown me,” I retorted, after a few minutes of coughing and sputtering.


She just shook her head and tried to explain it to me again. Arms and legs move together, not arms first and then the legs. I tried to protest that that’s how I learned it at Webb School Day Camp back in the 70’s, but she wasn’t having it.


We moved on to freestyle, and that’s where I discovered the hard truth. Freestyle is hard. There is a lot of coordination involved. And if you don’t turn your head at just the right angle, you (I) inhale water instead of air. And this causes some people (me) to panic.


At the end of the afternoon, we’d shared a lot of laughs, but I wasn’t any better at swimming. I may have tried it once again after that, but I felt too self-conscious. I felt like I just couldn’t do it, that everyone was watching me and judging me. “What is she doing with her legs?”


Of course no one was, but that’s how it felt.


Flash forward to 2017. Here I am, bored out of my mind with my cardio routine. I can’t face another day of plodding along on the elliptical. I’m side-eyeing the pool. I’m reading the schedule for group exercise classes, and I keep being drawn to aqua fitness.


Aqua fitness. The class of choice for old ladies! Because it’s filled with older women, and they use it as a social hour—they talk and talk through the whole class, and maybe they remember to move their arms and legs. Was that really going to be me?



But in order to make myself actually show up and do it, I had to schedule it, like a root canal. I set two reminders on my phone, one so I’d remember to pack my swimsuit and towel the night before, and another one for the day of.


I was really nervous the first day. I arrived early—too early. Luckily the other Old Ladies in the class were friendly and welcoming (and most were older than me, but not all of them). I loved it! I had a blast during “deep water workout,” wearing my buoyancy belt, doing jumping jacks, cross-country skiing and jogging.


After several weeks of this, I noticed that during class my mind wandered over to the lap swimmers. I started imagining myself there. I also admitted that I wanted more of a workout. I loved the Ladies, but yoga has trained me to “go inside” when I work out, not chitchat.


Around this same time, we moved house, and in the frenzy of packing up my closet, I discovered a brand-new pair of Speedo goggles. I may have bought them as a back-up pair for Rebecca, when she was on the high school swim team. Later, also during packing, I found a swim cap that once belonged to one of the girls. Now I had my equipment. It was a sign!


I set another appointment for myself: SWIM. I set more reminders on my phone, and packed my gym bag with my cap and goggles. Resolutely I set out for the pool. I told myself that once I was in the water, no one would recognize me—I’d just be another swim cap!


Like I said earlier, it wasn’t (still isn’t) pretty. I use the kick board, then I’ll do dolphin dives (which Laura taught me). Then I’ll do a lap of backstroke, and hopefully remember to count my strokes so I don’t bang my head on the side of the pool. Because that was really embarrassing. After catching my breath, I’ll do breast stroke, even though I know I’m not doing the kick “right.” Next I’ll do side stroke, which nobody does anymore, but I’m pretty sure I could win an Olympic medal in it.


Then I psyche myself up for freestyle. Remember when we talked about your nemesis yoga pose? Well, freestyle is my nemesis swim stroke. I’m fine on the way down to the deep end, but on the way back, I start to panic. I can’t get enough air. I have to breathe after every stroke. Then, sputtering, I flip onto my back and finish with backstroke.


For a while I felt anxious just thinking about freestyle, so I gave myself a break from attempting it. Then I let myself do half a lap, with a rest at the deep end, while I pretended to be adjusting my goggles.


I’m trying to use my yoga breathing more. I remind myself to keep my exhale longer than my inhale, because that activates the parasympathetic nervous system. I tell myself that swimming is like singing—grab some air and then let the sound pour out slowly and evenly. It helps. I’m still looking for suggestions on how to get past this panic, in case you have any. 


Despite that, I look forward to swimming. I feel really good about it.


What about you? Is there something new you’ve been wanting to try?


7 thoughts on “Trying something new: Swimming”

  • When I first got back in the pool a few years back (after a decade of not swimming), I started lap swimming wearing the buoyancy belt that the ladies in the aqua class wear. That took care of my fear of dying before I got to the other side of the pool and since I wasn’t worried about drowning, it let me focus on my stroke.

    Also, the pool is one of those things where I think everyone feels so self-conscious at first and after a while you realize the other swimmers couldn’t care less about what you’re doing in your lane. You do you, Ellen!

  • I was that person … arms going in one direction, legs doing something best described as a dolphin kick, bludgeoning whale side stroke, with an occasional breath during which I forgot NOT to do when head was still underwater. I had tremendous friends who gently encouraged me to keep trying, actually got in the water with me and provided gentle tips for improvement (to this day, I wonder if it caused them to start drinking before a workout knowing I was going to be there next to them! ). At any rate, I finally made a commitment to improve and joined the masters swim class with AJ (who has the patience of a Saint). I am happy to report that with great support from my wonderful friends, great coaching and a lot of perseverance – I can actually swim laps now. I am sure I still don’t ‘look like a swimmer’ but I don’t drown and I get a great workout. And as Dori says…. Keep on Swimming, Keep on Swimming!!!! Finally thoughts – I recently joined another swim class on Thursday nights at 7:30 – there are all different levels ranging from one who doesn’t know how to those working to improve tri times.

    • Hi Nancy, what a great story! I’ll check into the class with AJ. Is your Thurs night class at the Y? Thanks for reading!

  • Again, trying out new exercises may sometimes be awkward, but it’s often a lot of swimming fun too. If things don’t work out like you expected, laugh about yourself, then try again or try something else.

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