I would like to tell you a spiritual epiphany propelled me towards swimming. In reality, I was bored and I wanted to ‘conquer’ it like I do most things in my life. I’d carried this decades-long fear of the water since middle school. As a young, middle-class African American girl during the 70s, there was no urgency for me to learn. Since I didn’t want to drown, I had avoided all bodies of water. It didn’t turn out as simply as I had hoped. During a pool party I made contact when I was carelessly thrown in by some boisterous Choir members. There I was drenched and sputtering in three feet of water with my freshly straightened hair plastered against my scalp and my tennis outfit soaking wet. My friends’ bemused expressions were hilarious but my discomfort was absolute.
When I joined the Coast Guard in 1982, I‘d hope my unease would dissipate. Not quite. It took an additional month for me to make it around in the allotted five minutes which was required in the swimming area. Once boot camp was done, I didn’t adopt the desire to do more.
Which brings me to today. I spin this tale to Reggie, my swimming instructor, a stout twenty-something man and he is understandably puzzled. How was it you made it through boot camp and you couldn’t swim?
I looked him square in the eye. “Quota” I smile at him sagely.
I gazed around. A water aerobics class was taking place directly in front of me. Noisy echoes bounced off the walls. One auburn-headed doyenne led the others in a series or kicks and movements with water weights. Her melodious voice, a cross between a drill sergeant and a gospel singer, rose above everything else. She was the commander and the ladies her willing troupe. Some had donned floatation devices. Regardless of expertise each one was getting a good work out. It was a beautiful thing: these women of different sizes and shapes, ages, and various shades of brown, with dimpled, plump short and toned limbs pumping rhythmically in the water.
I was enchanted by the site of the sisterhood frolicking in the water. I caught glimpses of colorful swimsuits and gaily decorative turbans. These were card-carrying, natural-hair-wearing women: afros, locks, braids, TWAs. I hardly noted a relaxed head. It’s as if it was unanimously decided all had no time for such triviality.
I slipped in besides a smiling woman with deep dimples, gorgeous high cheek bones, and braids secured in a Scrunchie. I didn’t have the luxury to be shy. I was easily caught up in the energy around me. I was walking, lunging, jogging with the best of them until my legs surprisingly became like rubber.
Water aerobics is an excellent way to give your body a great work out. Water is gentler to your limbs so it won’t wreak havoc to your joints. (It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.) It is cleverly resistance because water is denser than air. Most arthritic patients benefit greatly from water exercises. After a few of these classes, I was a convert.
I am intrigued with swimming in general. After the initial lessons and the baleful glares I cast towards Reggie as he pried my reluctant hands off the wall, I am in the early stages of treading water and lap swimming. Lap swimming in itself conditions my breathing capacity as well as gives my body a tremendous workout. I am amused at the muscles which came to life after I’ve been in the water for an hour. I find I can fuse swimming within with my walking/jogging, weightlifting, and martial arts training. The pleasures I’d derived from this experience as well as the encouragement from my new acquaintances have boosted my confidence. It’s wondrous to realize how a fifty-something woman can go past her own hesitations and literally turn into a fish in the water.
Does this mean I may join the Senior Olympics one day? Who know? I’m never going to say never. Every day is a chance at a new adventure. I do know I’ve lost a few pounds since I’ve begun a few weeks ago. It’s added heightened body awareness to my routine which I enjoy. Plus, I get to back swim tomorrow! How cool is that?
It's easiest to tell yourself what you can't do. Guess what? There's nothing you can't do. You're not too old, too heavy, too short, too crippled, too "this" nor too "that" to experience the things you can. There's an unexplainable joy in challenging yourself no matter what age you happen to be. Never in my wildest imaginings did I belive I could be a fifty-year-old mermaid.
I can thnk of worse thngs!