Swimming to self esteem

“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”
-Lao Tzu-

If pressed into exercise for the sake of exercise, my first choice is swimming.  I like the smoothness of it and I hate to get hot and sweaty so it is a win-win activity.  As a child I took swimming lessons with my best friend, Bev.  I took lessons, just to be clear, but I did not learn how to swim.  Once a week during one long, hot summer, when we still lived in Winnipeg, Bev and I would catch the city bus across town to Sherbrooke Pool under the mandate of learning how to swim.  Neither of our parents swam…in fact mine used to warn us at the rare lake picnics to not go into deep water because “they could not save us”.  Enough said, shallow water it was.

I am not sure if Bev learned how to swim but she was more attentive so she may have.  I did not.  My energy was more focussed on how to do something close to what was expected without going deep in the pool.  Such was my fear of drowning; I had to feel the bottom of the pool underfoot.  The highlight of the lesson was of course the free time afterwards during which we could play about in the water.  There was also the big adventure of being allowed to ride the bus into another part of the city. The best I could manage was a dog-paddle which I determined would have to do well enough to save myself if necessary.  This was a theory that got tested out a number of years later, having moved into rural Manitoba, when I convinced a friend, Michele, to run and jump off the lake dock with me.  I managed to dog-paddle back to the shallows but Michele would likely have drowned had a stranger not hauled her out.

It was not until I was 25 that I decided that I would teach myself how to swim.  I had already figured out that I did not take instruction well.  With grade school, high school, and various other failed learning courses such as typing, yoga, tennis behind me it could be fair to say I had a block to learning from others.  It was time to teach myself.  I lived and worked in the downtown area of Winnipeg, within walking distance of the YWCA pool, and so it began.  I went to the early morning adult swim, observed how others swam lengths and copied the strokes.  At first I only swam short distances…in the shallow end and practiced my breathing rhythm.  Breathing was always my downfall, especially when I saw the water getting deep…a panic reflex set in and I was gasping and exhausted in no time at all.  I even went home and practiced exhaling completely underwater and coming up for breath in the bathtub.

After a few weeks I conjured up enough nerve to swim my first full length of the pool.  I felt my heart pounding in panic as the water got deep but because of the practice I managed to maintain my breathing rhythm.  By the time I got to the end of the pool I felt like I had accomplished a great feat; my heart was racing and I was breathing hard as though I had gone for miles.  I swam everyday for one hour right from the outset of self teaching to the joyous celebration of being a “swimmer” for three years.  If I missed the early adult length swim I made time for the noon swim on my lunch hour.

What a glorious, free feeling swimming was and I set a goal of 100 lengths which I attained within a few months.  I became physically fit and all around healthier.  It was my first real accomplishment and at last at 25 years of age I experienced a sense of self-esteem.

Today’s “stone” is  Day 227  remembering when, no regrets, a milestone


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