Swim for Life

This is my second post for the Indie InkWriting Challenge.  My prompt this week comes from Wendryn who you should follow on Twitter at @wendryn.  

+ + +

Here's the prompt:

You write a lot about your struggle with perfection. This challenge comes in two parts.

Write about swimming, when you learned, whether you struggled with it, if you fight with perfection in that arena as well, whether you enjoy it, and, if so, what you enjoy about it.

The second part of this challenge is to not edit the piece any more than spell checking and grammar checking. Let the words just come. Let go of control over writing and see what comes out. 

+ + +

Wendryn, I found it was easy to write about swimming.  I used my swim the other day to really think about your prompt and to pay attention to how I felt in the pool.  So, when I actually sat down to start this post after my swim, I wrote without worrying so much about the fact that I couldn't edit it afterwards.  It was like a certain weight was lifted.  This was a really good exercise for me and also a good opportunity for me to learn to let go of the need for perfection.  Thanks for being so thoughtful.

+ + +

My mom always called me her little fish.  “We had to watch you like a hawk around the pool,” she said.  “You were always jumping in the pool naked.  You loved the water so much that you never took the time to put on a bathing suit.  You always hopped right in!”  My favorite memory in the water was when my parents played Motor Boat with me.  “Motor boat, motor boat, go so slow,” they would say holding me close while twirling me around slowly.  “Motor boat, motor boat, go SO FAST,” they said as they increased the speed.

I was three years old when I took my first swimming lesson.  I don’t remember much about it except that I was the only kid in the group who didn’t hesitate to put my face in the water.  My mom said that they put me in swim lessons so that I would learn all the proper strokes.  She said that I was a quick learner.  I was four years old, the youngest kid at the country club, when I passed the swim test to swim in the deep end and therefore was the youngest kid to play Shark and Minnows with the big kids.

At camp one summer, I took a swim class to get my gold band, which allowed me to swim in the deepest part of the lake and also meant I never had to take a swim test again.  I was one of four kids who wore that gold band proudly all summer.  It was actually that swim class that inspired me to join my high school’s swim team the following school year.  I was never the team’s MVP nor did I place first at any of the swim meets, but I loved going to practice every day and being part of the team. 

When I moved to Florida my senior year in high school, I joined my new school’s swim team.  I had no friends when I started, but at the end of the season at the swim banquet, my coach honored me with the Spirit Award.  She said, “I haven’t given this award in years, but this year, I was inspired because Mandy had so much spirit.  She cheered on every teammate at every meet.  I am so honored she joined our team, and I have no doubt that her spirit made our team more cohesive and better swimmers.”

After high school, my jobs revolved around the water.  I became a lifeguard and eventually worked my way up to being waterfront director at camp.  As waterfront director, I had to call body drills, which is where the camp staff had to sweep the bottom of the lake for kids who were missing.  We were fortunate that most were only drills. 

I’ll never forget the time I had to call an actual search for a missing camper.  Most of the time, during the drills, I supervised the staff to ensure they were searching the lake properly.  But this time, I was in the water with the staff and leading the search alongside of them.  Forty-five minutes later and after almost the whole lake had been searched, the kid was found in the bathhouse taking a shower.  I got out of the water.  My whole body was shaking.  I had been scared to death for forty-five minutes that we would find the camper’s body in my lake, my safe haven.  While I was certainly relieved we found him far, far away from the lake, I was emotionally spent.  I cried and was shaky for hours.  My job was important and necessary, but it took a toll on me emotionally.  I was never the same after that.  That was my last summer as waterfront director and my last time in the water for a long time.

I first started swimming for exercise when I moved to India in 2003.  I became a consultant at the American club, and Raj, one of my lifeguards, took an interest in me.  He was a former Olympic swimmer who, like many Indian athletes, had to quit his passion in order to provide for his family.  He trained me at least four times per week.  It was Raj who helped me fine-tune my strokes.  He trained me to turn my head right and left versus just to the right.  I’ll never forget the first time I swam 100 meters of butterfly.  While I felt ridiculous, I also felt really accomplished.  Raj helped me gain my confidence again in the water.  

When I returned to the States in 2005, I intermittently swam.  It wasn’t until the summer of 2009 that I went back into the pool regularly.  My friend, Mindy, asked her friends on Facebook whether or not anyone wanted to swim laps with her.  I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship and knew that I needed to get back in the pool.  We swam together three times a week until December 2009, which is when I hurt my back. 

After many months of physical therapy, my physical therapist said that he thought I was ready to get back in the pool.  He suggested I take it easy and just listen to my body.  I was only able to swim 400 meters (1/4 mile) the first time I got back in the pool.  But, I’ll never forget how much of a sense of accomplishment I felt when a month later I swam my first mile.  It felt much like the pride I felt after swimming across the pool for the first time during my first swim lesson when I was three years old.

I now swim at least three or four times per week.  While it’s one of the few exercises I enjoy, it’s also the one thing in my life that truly grounds me.  If I’m feeling particularly stressed or overwhelmed, after a mile in the pool, I feel so much clarity.  I struggle with perfection in many things, but with swimming, I really don’t.  I am particular in that I always swim a mile and never anything less, but I don’t feel my strokes have to be perfect.  I swim for how it makes my mind feel, and I also swim because I’m afraid if I don’t, my body will give out again.  Swimming keeps me strong emotionally and physically.  I am most content when I’m in the water.

I feel I owe a lifetime of my parents’ encouragement and support in this activity that I loved to this feeling of contentment.  I love the rush I feel when I get in the water.  I love doing the back stroke at night and looking up at the stars in the sky.  I love how the thoughts of my day that start out weighing heavily on my mind dissipate as I swim each lap.  I love how as I kick off the wall on my last lap and extend my glide under the water, I always think, This Feels So Good.

The water supports me.  I swim for my life.