Thursday, April 28, 2011

Can You Butterfly?

I love to swim. I always have and I can't imagine a time when I will no longer love to be in the water. I don't remember a time in my whole life when I didn't feel more at home in the water than on land. When I was really young I used to pretend I was a dolphin. As I got a little older I would pretend to be a pearl diver and try to go really deep and get pretty shells and rocks from the bottom and line them up on the dock. I knew how to have fun in the water - playing and splashing about.

Then one day at summer camp when I was about 10 years old everything changed. I had to complete a test to see which swim class I would be in. "Can you butterfly?", the teachers asked. That question changed everything. I had seen my brother butterfly before and I had messed around with it a bit on my own, so I figured I'd say "umm, I think so." Off I went and I thought to myself, "well this is pretty awful." When I returned to the dock I saw amusement on the faces of the teachers. This only confirmed my fears - I had embarrassed myself. But instead of laughing at my stroke, they were actually laughing at my comment about being unsure. Apparently, like my older brother - I was a natural. My stroke may not have been a thing of beauty, but I had the right idea...some raw talent with no ingrained bad habits. And so it began.

About a year later, I joined the local swim team that my (champion) brother belonged to and I quickly became the ace 11-12 year old female butterflyer on the team. I was a big fish, so to speak, in a very small pond. But at the same time I was living in my brother's shadow. Knowing that I could never be nationally ranked like he was and knowing that I had so many other interests, I finally packed it in the year I turned 13. I have no regrets, only fond memories of the wonderful coaches and the other swimmers. I took the natural next step and became a lifeguard and swim instructor. But now I no longer knew how to have "fun" in the water. It had become ingrained in me to do laps. All I knew how to do was laps and teach - and boy I could swing a mean whistle on a rope!

For many years I swam just a bit here and there; mostly I enjoyed water skiing and tubing with the boys and watching over them as their life guard when they were very young. Neither of them inherited my love for the water or for swimming, but they are both good strong swimmers who can get themselves out of a dangerous situation. A mom can want for nothing more than their safety in the water.

I didn't swim competitively again until I was in my 30s when I started competing on my triathlon relay team as the swimmer. That first year was a tough one so I reached out to a local swim coach for help with my technique. This helped improve my technique, my training plans, and my speed. If you are struggling with speed - the first place to look is your technique. Get someone to help you improve your technique, which will improve your power and your speed. Then have someone help you develop a good training plan that will build your endurance and help with proper breathing.

After many years as a relayer, I started the solo tri gig. When I first started I came in second or third place in the swim leg a LOT (I'm speaking only of my division). How frustrating always being the bridesmaid! But finally last year in the Webster coed tri I took a first place in the swim! I couldn't believe my eyes. I had to check and recheck the results over and over again. I now had street cred - or race cred as it were - and I began helping others to try to reach their potential in the water. What a great feeling to help others with their goals!

I am spending time in the water again as this 2011 tri season begins. The first few times have been a bit stiff and I don't feel very smooth in the water. A few more visits to the pool and I hope to be back into my rhythm and then I can start rebuilding my endurance for the upcoming races. Open water swims are just around the corner. As the water warms I will don my wetsuit and brave the cold lake water, hopefully with great results.

The smell of chlorine brings a flutter to my heart, the sound of a starter pistol in a indoor pool area brings a tear to my eye, and the splashing sounds of a triathlon swim start makes my whole being melt. I am, and will always be, a water junkie.

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