“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
I am nothing is not persistent. From the time I was a small child, there was no telling me I couldn’t do something. Ever determined, I would simply redouble my efforts to find another way. Once my heart was set on something, there was no redirecting me. Perhaps this is why as an adult I own two bulldogs… It’s my appreciation for the obstinate.
When I signed up for swim class, I was already determined to swim. It was not just something I wanted to do, it was something I HAD to do. It didn’t matter that I had anxiety and hyperventilated every time I put my face in the water. Nor did it matter that I never learned to swim properly. If I was going to take on a half ironman and potentially a full ironman, I was going to have to get the hang of it. My goal was not just to learn to swim, but to swim well enough to survive 1.2 miles in open water. This was my task, and I was going to find a way.
When I decided to join the YMCA and take swimming lessons, I was both excited and terrified. I knew it would be a huge leap out of my comfort zone, but I was ready for the challenge. I never imagined that the evening coach would be more intimidating than the water! I was completely devastated when she kicked me out of class. It was as if she had confirmed all of my worst fears about myself by pointing out I wasn’t good enough. However, thanks to some tremendous personal growth over the past several years and a strong sense of self I was able to bounce back from the blow pretty quickly. Instead of wasting another moment feeling badly about myself, I came up with a new game plan before I even left the parking lot… granted I was crying at the time, but never more resolute!
I was not about to let some coach who didn’t know the first thing about me tell me I wasn’t good enough. I have a lot of experience with being underestimated. I’m petite, soft spoken, and polite. People frequently mistake the fact that I’m quite and reserved for a lack of confidence and self assurance. However, I am NO PUSHOVER. I know who I am and what I’m capable of, and this woman clearly did not. All she saw was someone she thought was struggling to swim: a snap shot in time with no backstory. I knew for a fact that I would make her eat those words.
I went to that pool and swam everyday after my first class, including the full workout the day she kicked me out and our session on the weekend. I went to that pool on the days I had to work, days I got out late, and days when I was stuck in traffic and knew I’d only have 30 minutes to swim before the pool closed. I went everyday for a week straight before I ended up at the pool while swim class was taking place. They had already started when I arrived. I wandered over to an open lane and started my usual drills and laps. I was swimming for almost 45 minutes when I looked up and realized that the swim coach was waving excitedly at me with the entire group in the beginner lane. Upon returning to the far end of the pool, they erupted into applause. She had stopped them to watch me swim and they cheered for me enthusiastically.
I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t surprised. In fact, I was shocked. That class is so intense, I didn’t expect anyone to notice I was even there. I figured I would fly under the radar per usual. Their excitement gave me enough of a boost to swim longer than usual, and I was happy to at least enjoy the company of my new beginner lane friends in spirit. I knew they were rooting for me. Unlike the coach, they understood where I was coming from. They struggled with the breathing the way I had, and looked anything other than graceful in the water the way I did. There was no judgement in the beginner lane. We were all terrified together, hoping not to be singled out by the coach or drown mid lap. Our fear of the coach and the water had bonded us almost immediately.
I am fairly certain that seeing me “transformed” into someone who could swim full laps somewhat gracefully with my face in the water gave them hope that they could too. After all, I was the worst swimmer in class according to the coach- the one who was so awful I was kicked out of class! Now the same coach was having them watch my swimming to illustrate how much improvement I had made. If a disaster like me could do it, of course they could!
After class, the girl I had talked most at our last class came running up to me in the locker room to tell me how thrilled she was for me. “You look like you really know what you’re doing!” I think she was more excited for me than I was for myself. She said she had asked the coach to show her how to rotary breath the way she had taught me. The rest of women shared her surprise and enthusiasm. Even the woman from the more advanced groups offered me sincere congratulations on all the improvement I had made. It was clear though, that it was the beginner group that was most elated, as this was a victory for all of us. Score 1 for the slow lane!
Then upon exiting the locker room I heard the words I thought would never come “So are you coming back to class?” It was the evening coach. I replied that I wasn’t sure if my swimming was strong enough partially because I was still in shock at the suggestion. She told me I should come to the next class to “See how it goes”. I’m sure that she was patting herself on the back and taking full credit, which is actually fine by me. I am just pleased to know it only took me 6 days to make her eat her words. The same women who initially suggested I get remedial lessons and try swim classes again in January at the earliest was now personally inviting me to class and using my swimming as an example to other beginners.
Like I said, she had no idea who she was dealing with. 😉
- Nyad’s team responds to skeptics doubting her swim (bigstory.ap.org)
- Never too late to learn how to swim (redcrosstalks.wordpress.com)