Learning to Swim as an Adult

I should be an Olympic swimmer. 23 time Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps is thought to have a perfect body for swimming with his 6’4″ height and disproportionately wide 6’7″ armspan. I’m 6’6″ with a 7’0″ armspan and webbed toes! My mom was an All-American swimmer at Purdue, her sister an All-American at Notre Dame, and her brother an All-American at Auburn (he also swam in the Olympic trials). My Mom never pushed swimming, instead signing my sister and me up for sports she enjoyed watching (basketball, baseball, volleyball) rather than attending weekend long swim meets.

In late 2012, at age 23, I decided I was going to do triathlons with the large goal of completing an Ironman triathlon. There was one big hurdle though, I didn’t know how to swim. I wouldn’t drown if you tossed me in a pool, but my swimming could best be described as a thrashing doggy paddle.

My first swim ‘workout’ was rather embarrassing. I was determined to learn to properly swim, which meant wearing the skin tight ‘jammers’ as well as sticking my face in the water to exhale and breathing to the side. I would swim a little bit, choke on some water, stop, start swimming again, choke on some water, until I got to the end of the pool. Thankfully the pool at 24 Hour Fitness was only five feet deep so I could stop and collect myself midway. Here are the the notes I wrote in the Garmin activity tracking software after a couple of those first swims:

December 29, 2012 –Swimming 1

January 2nd, 2013 –Jan 2nd

January 8th, 2013 –Jan 8th

January 10th, 2013 –Jan 10th

January 13th –
Jan 13th

January 15th –
Jan 15th

January 17th –
Jan 17th

The all caps in that final note is reflective at how excited I was to swim one length breathing properly (a laughable accomplishment now). It took nine workouts, but I finally figured out how to breathe properly. Later that summer, I successfully completed the 500 meter open water swim in my first triathlon. A year after that, I was one of the first people out of the water at that same triathlon. Four months after that, I completed a 2.4 mile open water swim in route to completing my first Ironman.

Thinking back on it, learning to swim was such a rewarding experience. To go from a complete novice to proficient in two years is a very empowering feeling. If I can learn to swim, what else can I do if I sidelined my unreasonable fear and anxiety?

There’s so many things I’d like to learn to do! Riding mountain bikes, rowing, welding, programming, wood working. and automotive repair are a few. What if I picked a project and jumped in feet first like I did with swimming?

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