….. this summer I could have drowned…”*
Oh this song has been going around in my head all summer long, as I’ve resumed swimming and it’s gradually become a regular part of my life. The version I’m familiar with is by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, who I listened to almost obsessively many years ago, and still love to listen to.
I learnt to swim at junior school, where the target was to be able to swim first a width (12 yards) and then a length (25 yards). It didn’t seem to matter how you did it: mine was doggy paddle, and only just got me there. But get me there it did, and that was the end of swimming lessons for me.
Having worn glasses since I was 7, I found swimming quite a trial. All that echoey noise combined with not being able to see properly and the feeling of only just being able to keep myself from drowning – not a pleasurable affair.
So it remained until many years later when, for some reason I no longer recall, I wanted to do something and swimming seemed like a good idea. Someone suggested that the eyesight problem could be resolved by wearing goggles, which was transformational. I had been wearing contact lenses since I was 18, and had swum with my head well out of the water for fear of losing my lenses. Suddenly I could swim with my face in the water instead of keeping my head firmly out of the water, and I could see. This changed everything – how you hold your head really affects how the rest of your body is in the water.
Coincidentally, Malcolm had a book on Alexander technique applied to swimming and I read it. You really shouldn’t be able to learn to swim from a book, but somehow what I read made perfect sense to me. Step by step (stroke by stroke) I made small changes in how I held and used my body in the water, and to my amazement I soon found that I had progressed from barely being able to get from one end of the pool to the other, to being able to swim length after length.
I didn’t keep it up, for all sorts of reasons. Now though I have good reason to choose swimming in place of long walks, and I’ve done so. I planned to swim twice a week, usually early in the morning. So far (it’s summer, right? with all those light mornings and hot days….) I’ve found this to be a wonderful way to start the day – by 9.30, I’ve walked a couple of miles to the pool and back and swum a long way. I feel refreshed and ready for whatever is next.
I set myself a long-term target of being able to swim a mile (60 lengths of our local 25m pool).
To my surprise and delight, yesterday I achieved my goal. It felt amazing to have done it, and frankly a bit of an anti-climax that there was no-one there to cheer me on, to congratulate me, to celebrate it. But then I hadn’t gone to the pool intending that today would be the day. It just kind of happened. Because, like any other large goal in life, you do it bit by bit, step by step, stroke by stroke, length by length. And then, so long as you can manage to keep at it, eventually you arrive. But for me, the journey was the thing. And I know now that I’ll do it again, and enjoy it again.
And this summer, I didn’t drown, even though I could have.
*lyrics by Louden Wainwright 111