Swimming

My entire adult life, I’ve loved being in the water.

I wasn’t always so fond of it. I learned to swim early, and spent several childhood years on the local swim team. We had practice two or three times a week, swimming endless laps during which we had to breathe as little as possible—ideally, we’d make it from one end of the pool to the other on a single breath. We were two, three, four swimmers to a lane, chasing each other like links of a roller chain, compelling each other to keep pace lest one slow down the whole system. It was stressful and exhausting. I actually fared well at meets, but I wasn’t competitive then. I don’t think I fully grasped what I was doing there, so the rewards for my efforts meant little.

When swimming “for fun,” I didn’t like the way the water clutched at my body, dragging down my limbs as I fought to wade around. Since it seemed taboo to wear “serious” gear like goggles, I would compulsively and frustratedly wipe my eyes any time a bit of water splashed on my face. The ocean was even worse for its unruliness. The constant waves and currents would chop up my straight, smooth strokes. When I ventured far enough for the sand to disappear from beneath my feet, my heart would drop in a flash of fear. In a pool, if you couldn’t reach the floor, you at least knew how many feet away it was, could mark the finiteness of its distance. In an ocean, who could tell?

It wasn’t until college that I was able to let go and enjoy myself in water. Then, in my mid-twenties, a switch seemed to flip in my mind. I suddenly wanted to start swimming regularly again. Maybe I needed to be free of coaches blowing whistles and parents pushing for ribbons. Maybe, since I had just moved into my own home and was living alone like a Real Grown-up, I craved the womb-like sensory experience. Maybe this was part of a bigger movement of reclaiming and refining the self.

Now it feels like a second home. Swimming feels easy and natural in a way that other exercises like running or cycling never have. And I view it as a way to escape, a way to lose myself in muffled weightlessness, freedom of movement, and repetition. My laps are almost meditative. Sometimes, the pool lane opens a channel for creativity as I work on my next blog topic or story concept. Other times, I work through something that’s been bothering me lately. Every stretch, I try to unlock a little more understanding, acknowledge a little more truth, and release a little more stress. This has become doubly cathartic since having a baby. Not only do I have more stress in my life, but I also hardly ever get time alone.

On land, at work or at home or even in the wilderness, we are surrounded by countless things we can touch and squeeze and throw. In the swimming pool, my body is isolated, the water acting as a buffer that makes everything else seem farther away. My body is liberated from everyday gravity, and my mind is free to be itself.

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