Tuesday, January 11, 2005

being a beginner

I grew up in a family where much importance was given to kids learning all the key skills (swimming, riding a bike...) because you had to learn those things as a kid, adults didn't learn new skills. After the age of about 12, you weren't supposed to participate in sports or arts unless you were talented, or if it was a recreational sport not only had decent skills but knew proper etiquette as well.

While I enjoy long swims in lakes and the ocean, I've almost literally never swum laps in a pool. When I was a child a swim teacher came to our house once a week all summer and we learned swimming skills from our dock on a salt water inlet. I did learn the basics of different strokes, but I haven't had any instruction in swimming since I was maybe 10. As a young adult I figured out for myself a way to swim more slowly so I could keep going for 1/4 mile or more. I have enjoyed that kind of swimming now and then ever since, mostly swimming the crawl with my face always out of the water (partly so I can see where I am going).

So going to Clemson Aquatic Team's masters swim group this morning was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I knew in advance my swimming technique was all wrong, and I knew I didn't know the etiquette. But I was determined--I got half way there and realized I had forgotten my bag but even knowing I would be late I didn't back out.

The coach and the three other people swimming this morning were friendly. I did have to share a lane with someone, and after I nearly ran into her she told me what to do (stay on one side). Some of the time I swam one lap to the other people's two, but that seemed to be ok. What the coach was teaching wasn't utterly over my head, and I did at least make progress over the course of the hour in being able to swim comfortably with my head in the water. It was a struggle at first and I breathed a lot of water--it is a shock to swim in fresh water after swimming in salt water over the vacation and I must be significantly less buoyant after losing 55 lbs (since Nov. 2003). I've ordered prescription goggles but they haven't come yet; I felt so at a loss not being able to see (from my goggles fogging up as well as from how nearsighted I am).

By the end I was near tears feeling humiliated by struggling to do something I wasn't good at. I felt like I was slowing everyone up, though I wasn't. I know rationally it is ok to be a beginner but the messages in my head that it is not are so strong. I'm determined to get past that; I want to be able to do new things. Part of what got me into running and then into the idea of doing a triathlon was wanting to embrace being a beginner and do things I had never done before.

After the swimming I took my son to school and then had an appointment and then I went for a bike ride of a little over an hour to burn off some of the feelings. I was blessed that when I got back I found an email from the woman who had originally told me about the group, welcoming me. I told her I would be back Thursday.

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