We’re in our car and my husband is driving. Our friend is travelling with us. We’re on a bridge and the car hits the side wall and overturns. Plummeting deep into the green water of the river below, we struggle helplessly to get out of the car. I’m losing my breath, I’m drowning, I’m unable to save myself or my family…
I wake up, panting. It was only a dream.
This dream started haunting me recently. I was never paranoid about water until I had this dream. I grew up in Chennai, on India’s southeastern coast, so our family was at the beach pretty often. But my parents were so scared of letting us swim in the ocean that we would just go wet our feet for some time and come back home. I never knew that there was something called a swimming pool, until my brother was in middle school and signed up for summer swimming coaching.
Fast forward to recent times. My daughter learnt to swim three years ago and my son learnt last year. Every time they went to the pool, my kids would beg me to come swim with them. Of course, yours truly knew nothing about swimming. I could barely manage to stand in the pool for some time. And of course, if I tried putting my head in the water, I thought I was instantly drowning.
So my goal for this summer was to learn swimming. Here are six things I wish I’d known before I started:
1) ‘Just Relax’ is the most important swimming tip you are ever going to get. I realised that the more desperately I tried to swim, the more I sank. At least, that’s how I felt the first few times. Then I decided to just relax in the water and have fun. It didn’t matter whether I looked like a walrus or a giant blue whale in the water, I was just going to enjoy myself. It didn’t matter whether I had water going into my ears and nose, I was just going to relax and not let it bother me. And that’s when it clicked. The minute my tensed shoulders relaxed was the first time I floated for a considerable amount of time. I felt delirious!
2) Kids are very agile. Yes, they are. Kids are way better than adults when it comes to learning any sport and the same holds true for swimming. My 10 year old niece, 9 year old daughter and 13 year old niece were all in the same class with me and they were learning things much faster than me. It was then that I wished I had learnt to swim as a child as opposed to learning it now as an adult.
3) A good coach can make all the difference. I had two women from Kerala who were my coaches this summer. They were simply brilliant. They were chatty and funny, imitating each of us underwater. And they taught us to swim in just fifteen days. They knew exactly how to handle nervously chatty adult women with deft and skill. They knew when to push us in and when to pull us out.
4) Deep end diving is not as scary as it seems. When my coach asked me to go to the deep end and try diving, I went pretty bravely. The first time, I did pretty great. I belly flopped, but at least I didn’t sink. So I went with overconfidence the second time. When I saw the deep blue water, I literally froze. The dream started playing in my head and the next thing I knew, I had jumped in the wrong way and was quickly taking in water, sinking and gasping for breath. That’s when my brilliant coach rescued me and smiled and reassured me that I wasn’t dead yet. Then she took my son (who was also paranoid about deep end diving) and me to another side of the pool and taught us the right way to do it. Gently talking to us and easing our fears, she made us dive repeatedly until we overcame our fear. Now we like to do it just for the fun of it.
5) It’s a great way to burn tummy fat. I wanted to learn swimming to overcome my fear of water, but burning belly fat was an added bonus. I have major issues with scar tissue and adhesions and can never do crunches or planks or push ups or anything remotely connected to my abdominal muscles without experiencing intense pain. Swimming has helped me shave off a few inches from my perpetually pregnant-looking tummy. The good news? It was pain free.
6) What you think you look like in the water is completely different from what you actually look like in the water. For the most part, I imagined myself to be this beautiful Olympic swimmer slicing through the water effortlessly. But in reality, when my coach imitated my swimming, it was a hilarious combination of a giant water monster trying to do some Michael Jackson moves, with the facial expressions of one trying to prevent herself from drowning. So yes, I stopped imagining the unattainable and started working on a few swimming skills that would actually help me enjoy swimming. And in the bargain, who cares if some of the onlookers are entertained by my flailing arms and legs and snorts? It doesn’t bother me anymore, because in my own head, I’m still that Olympic swimmer, right?
And so I’ve come to realise that the dream doesn’t seem to bother me anymore. Tackling my fear head on, and overcoming it, has left me feeling happy and confident. I’ve enjoyed the sport and have tried to make the best use of this season. The kids and I are now trying to convince my husband to learn as well. With those happy thoughts, I’m off for a swim!
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