I happen to be turning 44 this week and I only just learned how to do the front crawl.
The first time I had taken a swimming lesson I was four. I didn't learn much, which I will get to later. Still skillless, I arrived to sixth grade to learn swimming was part of phys ed. I got a "C" in the class. The meager skills I had downpat were back floating and treading water which defined me as an "advanced beginner".
For more than three decades I have thought of myself as being totally incompetent at swimming. It both embarrased me and once I had children really stressed me out because I didn't believe I had the skills to help them learn. When they were both little I prioritized swimming lessons for them in a very patient and nurturing swim school environment. What I hoped for them was they would learn to feel confident and safe around a pool and also find true joy and pleasure in swimming. At the same point in time I taught water aerobics. And despite being certified, experienced instructor, I felt like a farce because "I couldn't swim". What if my class saw me make my way to the deep end needing to doggy paddle? As my children were taking swim lessons, I often thought maybe I should too. Then I'd get images of every other sixth grader moving on to learn the backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly while I had to stay in the shallow end of the pool and I'd talk myself out of it, certain I would just fail at it again. Here's the thing. All these years, I completely discounted what I could do: swim underwater.
Underwater swimming wasn't ever tested in class but it was something I figured out for myself. And while I don't know if I do it "right", I have always been happy and confident beneath the surface.
It wasn't until this past summer when we traveled to Spain that I finally realized I am not a hopeless, incompetent swimmer. For anyone that remembers the '92 Olympics held in Barcelona, the outdoor pool was set on a mountain so you could see beautful views of the city when the divers were up. It is now open for public swimming and was at the top of our must-do vacation activities.
We spent hours in that pool having the best time and I didn't sink or tire out. Sure, I had no idea how to do the front crawl. But I could swim across that Olympic pool my own way. When my kids dropped a toy and my husband tried to get it but couldn't reach the bottom of the pool. Without thought I powered my way down there. When I resurfaced he said, "I had no idea you were that strong a swimmer." Neither did I.
One day after we got home from Spain and were at our local YMCA pool, I had a flashback to those preschool swimming lessons. I remembered tears. And I remembered they ended abruptly. As we were taking our turns in the class the teacher would mimic an ambulance siren sound and come give us a boost if we were getting tired. Now I'm sure this was done in a fun, cute manner. But I suddenly remembered my face going under and the teacher coming to "rescue" me. After that class I never went back because it was scary... not for me, but for my mom. In an instant it clicked why I could never do the front crawl. Everytime I'd attempt side breathing I'd gasp for air and start to panic. That very day I signed myself up for Adult Beginner swim lessons realizing all I needed to finally get this stroke down was someone to teach me how to breath.
Two classes was all it took for me to feel confident with the front crawl (and the backstroke too!). Two classes with an instructor who was calm and supportive and who was really intent on having us feel relaxed as we swam. Anxiety. Embarrasement. Shame. Others' perceptions and opinions. A bad grade in a class from way-back-when. They can all cloud our view of what we are capable of in the here and now. But they can't define us if we don't allow them to.
I feel for my mom, who clearly never had the chance to fall in love with being in the water, because clearly something held her back. My parents owned a pool for a time and I can picture her standing in the shallow end with a frightned look if she even came near the 4' mark. What is a skill or activity that you want to explore but self doubt keeps holding you back? Take it from me, it is absolutely worth diving in. I obviously won't ever be an olympic swimmer but I know I can confidently freestyle across an olympic pool now. Next up on my list: the breaststroke and butterfly.