I remember when I didn’t know how to swim; stepping off into water over my seven year old head, until teenage hands pulled me from the cool airless blue, back to the surface.
My youngest sister and I were asthmatic kids. The doctor suggested exercise; mum took us swimming.
My first lesson I watched fearfully, while in the class next to me, an instructor threw little babies into the deep. Amazingly, they floated: little limbs flailing and bodies bobbing.
I remember chlorine-filled air, stiflingly heated pools; and swimming laps, like a row of ants, one after another in the lane. My hair towel-dried or head forced under a hand-dryer before going out afterwards into the cold winter evening.
Swimming training filled my afternoons. I sobbed my way up a 25 metre lane through mouthfuls of water, struggling with backstroke. ‘Stop your crying and SWIM!’
Swimming laps was precious time I spent with my father growing up. He would take me to Charlestown public pool on weekend afternoons when he didn’t have to work. We would walk the kilometre from home together. I was in awe watching the clean strokes of his six foot six body cut effortlessly through the water.
My interest turned to other things as a teenager: Duran Duran, sleep overs and sunbaking on Redhead Beach in the sand dunes. There was little time for swimming laps then.
Then one day I found I was by myself again, and I filled my time by swimming laps on the Strand in Townsville, overlooking the tropical sea to Magnetic Island.
Swimming laps didn’t occur to me when I arrived in Hobart. I was too busy trying to adapt to the change in climate and culture. Friends Health and Fitness opened its doors at the same time I took a private rental at the bottom of Commercial Road, North Hobart. In less than a 10 minute walk from my home, I was in the water again, swimming laps.
That was 15 years ago, and swimming laps has been my weekly devotion during those 15 years.
Swimming laps has been my meditation for 15 years: pushing off the edge, gliding under the water, into my own world, as far as I can go holding my breath; my body and my head, weightless, surrounded by water.There’s been an occasional lapse: months spent overseas or overwhelmed with life when something had to give. But my connection with water and the joy I get from swimming laps is determined. I forced my floppy left arm over my head in retarded movements, filled with my quota of anti-inflammatories and all the while, further inflaming my jammed rotator cuff. My shoulder has never really recovered.
Sometimes, when I go for my weekly swim, I am lucky enough to swim a few laps where it is only me in the pool, and it is completely peaceful. There is no turbulence or underwater vibrations or the break in the calm when I turn my head to breathe and hear life outside of my lane.
I know you’re meant to mix up your routine but mine has been: 10 laps alternating between freestyle and breaststroke; 10 laps freestyle; 10 kickboard; 20 flippers freestyle and backstroke; and 10 laps with paddles and a kneeboard.
When I’m feeling particularly motivated, 20 of these laps are replaced with a medley: breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle, backstroke. I don’t swim and sob like a little girl anymore. It’s the exercise I do where I am most comfortable in my body.
And when it’s not crowded, I’ll sit in the spa and enjoy watching others swimming laps, critiquing their stroke, watching them glide through the water and emerge to take in their next breath and then return to the water to breathe out bubbles.
The place swimming laps has taken in my life has changed over time: necessity, challenge, chore, exercise, and my time in my own space. I’m glad for all the roles it has played, from childhood to now.
What childhood legacy have you taken with you into your adult life?