On Books and Water
When I was a kid, there were two things I did to the point of obsession.
I read and I swam.
I never did stop reading. I fell in love with stories when I was old enough to understand what my mother was reading to me. She taught me to read when I was three, to give herself a break I think. Reading turned into writing, and really my whole world today is about words — both reading and writing them.
I wanted to let you guys know that I’ve started a book blog, called Story Carnivores with my good friend Brian Rowe. We both write Young Adult fiction, and started a little book club a few months ago to make sure we were reading and staying up to date on our genre, and that evolved into our blog. It’s super fun, with movie reviews, some book news, and even some videos of the two of us, since Brian is a videographer.
Sadly, I did stop swimming. I swam two practices a day for years, two hours a piece. I loved being in the water. I have eight younger brothers and sisters, and the quiet under the water appealed to me. My brain could let go under water. I could replay movies from start to finish, or re-read my favorite books, in my head. And I told myself my own stories as I swam those endless laps. But also — I was good at swimming. I pushed myself and it paid off.
But my family went off the rails when I was a teenager and, eventually, swimming had to go. I tried to go back a year later, but I’d lost so much of my edge. I quit after the first practice. I was 17 and I never went back.
Years later, when I was in my 30s, I joined the YMCA in Las Vegas and tried to swim again. I was mortified that even two laps caused me significant distress. I couldn’t breathe. My heart pounded like it might explode. Then we moved to Middle-of-Nowhere, Nevada, where the nearest pool was 200 miles away, and I didn’t think about swimming anymore.
We belong to a gym with a gorgeous saline lap pool. I found a program, similar to Couch to 5K, with workouts to bring a swimmer from 100 meters to 500. There is a follow-up program from 500 to 1500 meters. That’s about a mile. A third program goes from 1500 to 3000 meters. (My typical workouts as a teenager were 4000 to 6000 meters. Which boggles my 40-year-old mind.) I can’t spend a lot of time looking at the workouts above where I am now, which is 250 meters or 10 laps. Just ten, but they are literally all I can do at the moment.
My biggest hurdle in returning to swimming is psychological. Even though I’m 40 now, and 17 is a distant memory, I have always identified as a swimmer. Internally, anyway. So having to fully admit that while I still have good technique, my body and my lungs have a looong way to come, was difficult. But I did it. And I’m so glad, because I can feel myself getting stronger and better every time I get in the water.
There is a Masters swim program at my gym. Masters is team swimming for adults. There are even meets, although I don’t think my gym team is organized well enough to compete. (They might be though. I haven’t gotten to the point of checking that out yet.)
The Masters coach has a white board in the pool room with that day’s swim listed on it. The warm-up is always 300 meters. Then there are sets of 25s or 50s or 100s, in different strokes, with time goals for each segment. I use that board as an inspiration. As soon as I can manage to follow what’s on the board, I can think about joining the Masters.
Getting back in the pool is a little bit like going home. There is a sense of belonging. Little things trigger memories. Everything there is the same as it always was, but I’ve changed. It took a little bit to finally realize that changing doesn’t mean I don’t still belong.