Doing a new thing? That means a new shiny!
I’ve made it no secret that I can’t swim. This comes as a surprise to a lot of people, for whatever reason, but you may as well have asked me if I speak fluent Russian. Their surprise is a surprise to me, since I’ve never really been able to do it. I suppose it’s something like my bewilderment at people who never learned to type; I’ve been able to do it for so long, and from such an early age, that I can’t imagine not having the ability.
It’s not that I haven’t been taught. I have, several times, by several different methods. In second grade, they bussed all of us over to the local YMCA for lessons. I didn’t pass. The following summer, while at a hotel on vacation, my dad took the “throw him in and he’ll learn” approach. I sank. He had to come in after me. I didn’t speak to him for days, convinced that he had been trying to kill me. In high school, several of my friends were incredulous that I couldn’t even float, and watched, perplexed, as I demonstrated my ability to simply sink to the bottom, on my back, and lie there.
In the years since, I’ve developed some sort of flailing “technique” that one might be tempted to call swimming. It’s like a doggy paddle, if the doggy was out of shape, uncoordinated and a little bit panicked at the idea of being in the water. It’s not pretty, but it’s effective enough to (hopefully) get me from where I land in the water, to the nearest floating piece of debris or life raft. What it isn’t, is anything that you imagine when I say the word “swimming.”
Through the race season, while conversing with friends and competitors about my efforts in running and biking, the inevitable question arose almost without fail: “Why don’t you do triathlons?” The ability to swim is assumed. Most triathlons, short of the Ironman variety, have reasonable swim distances. The follow-on assumption is that if one can run and ride for long distances, adding a swim is no big deal. Except, of course, if you can’t do it.
After years of answering the question with some embarrassment, I’ve decided to do something about it. After all, being told I can’t do something is essentially what spurred my whole lifestyle change from bloated couch potato to addicted racer. A few years ago, I blew up my knee. In rehab after surgery, they told me that I’d likely never run more than the required mile and a half for my annual fitness test. In response, I started running 5k’s that fall, and the following Spring, signed up for a half marathon. I’ve done a half dozen since, and have no plans of stopping.
So after much hemming and hawing, and with more than a few pep talks from Katie, I signed us up for lessons at the YMCA in December. Katie’s coming with me for a refresher, and as moral support. We’ve been coaching each other for years now, so it’s only natural that she’d come along. While it may seem counterintuitive to learn to swim in middle of winter, I’m banking on everybody else thinking that, too. The fewer people who show up to witness my aquatic thrashing, the better.
I’ve spent the year engaged in a lot of activities that some of my readers have told me are crazy. While in the middle of some of them, I was sometimes inclined to think they were right. But putting on the goggles and getting in the pool this December will be, in many ways, the biggest challenge of my year.