Years ago, back when Nikita was Oneika and knee-high to a grasshopper, I took swimming lessons at a local pool in Toronto. I don’t remember much from the experience except learning the front crawl and having difficulty treading water. But then, also a number of years ago, I distinctly remember going to a water park with a friend (a very strong swimmer) and over-zealously following her into the wave pool. Big mistake. I got overpowered by the electronically generated waves, and swept off my feet by the faux-undertow. I remember gasping for air and getting a mouthful of water. I was only about 9, but I still remember the humiliation of being pulled out of the water by a lifeguard and the coughing. I kept my eyes closed as he pulled me out.
My friend’s dad (who had taken us to the water park in the first place) was understandly concerned. Perhaps overly so. Then again, I had nearly drowned. But still. I felt fine, and we had just gotten to the water park half an hour earlier so I told him that I did not want to turn around and drive 45 minutes back to my place. So I stayed at the water park for the rest of the afternoon, taking care to avoid the wave pool and all other large and deep bodies of water.
My mom, from what I remember, was furious, but I imagine that that stemmed more from worry and concern than actual anger.
I never thought that that incident had a real impact on me, but from that point on, I always found some excuse to stay away from water, opting to debut my bikinis (once I got older) on the loungers at the pool/beach. It wasn’t until a few summers ago in France, when an ex-boyfriend beckoned for me to come join him in the Mediterranean and I wrapped my arms and legs around his body in genuine fear and felt tears creep up behind my eyes, that I realized that I had a problem.
This past February, in Vietnam with Liebling, I found myself in the same situation. He beckoned me into the pool at our resort. But how could I? He was beautiful in the water, swimming gracefully, his arms cutting the water cleanly. Half man, half fish. I got in with much trepidation, and hung onto him for dear life. After many tries, I finally put my head under the water. It was then that we discussed the possibility of me going to swimming lessons, nearly 20 years after my last go-round. After all, we are going sailing in Croatia this summer, and I don’t want to not even HAVE the option of wading in the shallow part of the Mediterranean.
It was this resolve that I started swimming lessons for adult beginners about a month ago at my local YMCA here in Hong Kong. Way back on January 1st I decided that 2010 would be a year of betterment and self-improvement in all avenues of my life. A year of keeping things moving, making things happen and making dreams (and big talk) a reality. And thusly, I am conquering one of my biggest fears through swim classes. I’m in a class with about 7 other adults, all of them Chinese but for one girl who, despite being phenotypically Asian, hails from the Netherlands. The instructors are Chinese and have difficulty speaking English, but through broken English and hand signals they (mostly) get their message across. I’ve only had about 4 lessons and realize I will never be an excellent swimmer, which suits me just fine. I am looking to be functional. I am in the process of learning the breaststoke and I think that I am making (ok) progress, even though every time I try to come up for air my legs sink down to the bottom. I feel a lot more comfortable in the water, though, which is a big step in and of itself. And these things take time. Or so I’ve been told.
The picture above of me and Liebling was taken this past Sunday: as sort of a pact that was made between him and I in Vietnam in February, I vowed that I would be able to swim at least a little bit, and without fear, upon his return to Hong Kong to see me in May. And so, I made good on my promise. Last Saturday night he went on the internet and checked out the public pools in Hong Kong, and on Sunday afternoon we took a cab to a local pool and I showed him my stuff, which is admittedly not all that great. For about two hours he was my personal swim instructor, holding me in the water, and coaching me how to breathe and kick more efficiently, something for which I will be eternally grateful. His grace in the water was juxtaposed with my difficulty and ungainliness, but I still plugged on, with his encouragement. But I did “it”, as promised. While I was exhausted, I managed to swim (a very short distance) to him unassisted. And then I did it again. And again. And again. Victory.
Keep in mind that I am nearly 28 years old. But I think that it is never too late to learn. To challenge yourself.
I have no illusions. I will never be Michael Phelps. But I’m hoping to join the ranks of all you swimmers out there… now that I can (kind of) swim.