I kept reminding myself that when things are most frustrating is often the point right before a big breakthrough.
I watched a toddler recently learning to walk, edging along shelves and the couch, once in a while taking a step without noticing it — and then suddenly he was walking and, within a few days, running. But, of course, he wasn’t thinking, “I want to walk, oh, I’m so ready to walk, when am I going to be able to walk?”
Between Open Studios and flying to London for my daughter’s wedding I missed a lesson, and had a two-week break between lessons for the first and probably the worst time in terms of my confidence. I felt funny showing up at Lesson Nine, having gotten into the pool only once between lessons, but I was determined to reclaim my joy and comfort in the water. I also wanted to feel some progress — I felt like I hadn’t made any breakthroughs (though I had) and was impatient.
Beth was very careful with me. She didn’t want me to do anything that might trigger the vertigo. She didn’t have me flip over. I worked on my side kicking. I worked on my breathing position. Some of the apprehension began evaporating. I still was weak from the flu and took it easy. I didn’t experience the vertigo.
Beth suggested I get earplugs to prevent me from getting water in my ears, which might cause vertigo. Being in the pool with earplugs was different. It made me focus internally — like meditation, instead of being hyper-aware of, or distracted by, the sounds or silence of the pool room.
For these next two lessons Beth helped me work on side kicking in breathing position for learning backstroke. Switching from side to side, but not changing my head. She held my head in the correct position and let me do the rotating. As I kicked, I’d count to ten with one arm by my side and the other above my head, like at eleven or one o’clock if the top of my head was twelve; take one stroke and rotate to the other side — pivot my body but not my head. With Beth helping me, I could do this. It felt wonderful. I was getting the experience of swimming on my side/back and felt a rush of joy and excitement. But when Beth let go I could only keep going for a few turns and then things would fall apart. Beth reminded me that most of the people she teaches have a hard time learning breathing position and understanding the arm position. That made me feel not so different.
I focused on my top arm, trying to feel the weight of my arm coming over my body. I tried to keep it relaxed. My movements were too big, too clumsy. I’d jerk my head back and get a nose full of water over and over. Beth reminded me the top arm had to be relaxed — when she tried to move my arm sometimes she couldn’t because there was too much resistance. But knowing that the arm has to be relaxed is not the same as knowing how to relax it.
I can do the breathing position so much easier when kicking or starting on my right side than on my left side. I can only do two or three strokes before I have to stand up again to breathe, before the whole thing falls apart. I collaspe at my waist or tip my head too far back or forward. I forget what I should be doing with my arms. Anything that can be off seems to fall apart in that third or fourth stroke. Beth suggests it is the tightness in my neck sometimes and other times it is the weakness of my left side. When she positions my head I can do it — on my own, my side position falls apart.
I’m trying to pay attention and acknowledge the weakness in my left side and not be so critical of it, or ignore it. Carol points out that most people have a side that is much weaker, which makes me feel less weird about it. She is my biggest fan and completely supports this endeavor to learn to swim.
I loved the sensation when Beth helped me move. It showed me how it could feel — if I could just get there. I tried to go slower. I counted. I got dunked — my nose full of water over and over. Beth suggested a nose plug. I bought one but haven’t used it yet, feeling it would be a failure. Carol said all the greats use them. “Really,” I asked, “Michael Phelps?” “Well, Esther Williams,” she said.
The timing for the two lessons in a row was the perfect balance after my hard time. I had two days of breathing position, of side kicking, of having Beth support my head – of enjoying the water again, of being inspired. I wanted to practice again.
Dear Shoney: “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Yard by yard is hard.” Yep, step by step, and you will get there! I promise. ~Beth