How Kelly Learnt to Swim: A Lesson in Humility and Persistence

In November of 2018, I had just returned from a 6-week study trip to New York. I’d eaten a lot of bagels, a lot of pizza and very few green vegetables. I complained about how unfit I was to my tennis partner, expecting to find myself running from one side of a court to another in her form of pre-season punishment. Instead, she suggested that I come along to these swimming sessions she’d just started with a ladies triathlon group. Fast forward 18 months and I’m writing an article about how I became a TriChick.

At this point in this story, it’s important to note that I couldn’t swim. I didn’t even know how much I couldn’t swim because I hadn’t tried the activity at any point in my adult life. Just like my violin practises, swimming lessons in primary school had not been a personal strength. I remember feeling self-conscious in the girls change room and to make it that little bit harder my father drowned in a fishing accident that first year of primary school. Needless to say, I didn’t want to swim and no-one was going to make me. With all that said, I’d certainly given my version of the doggy paddle a good go, and I genuinely enjoyed bobbing over waves at the beach, but I never liked getting my head underwater. I learnt very quickly that none of these past times equated to good swimming technique in the pool.

That first session was definitely a disaster. I didn’t know whether to blow bubbles through my mouth or my nose, so I compromised and held my breath altogether. Breathless and with my heart pounding in my throat I started panicking and I had to stop. This was my standard MO for quite a while. Every Wednesday at 6:30 pm, I’d drink what felt like my body weight in chlorinated water and try to hide at the end of the 50-metre pool, extending my 10-second rest to a solid 10-minute paddle. I was invariably offered the pool buoy, and I couldn’t understand how it was supposed to be of any assistance. With that mocking floaty between my legs, I felt like a dancing seal, rocking side to side, with water going up my nose at every breath and an onslaught of sneezing every 50 metres.

 

If I’m honest, at that point in time I wasn’t really sure why I kept going back. I felt disheartened at the end of a lot of sessions and I really doubted whether I was ever going to get better. It just seemed like this incredibly foreign and impossible task. On reflection, I’m almost sure it was the community of women around me. Despite being a tragically bad swimmer, there was no judgement for not keeping up; not once did I feel self-conscious about using a kickboard; I never felt excluded from the group.

Things started to shift when Amy took over the Wednesday night squad. We went back to basics and I learnt the fundamental techniques that I’d been missing, like breathing. Amy was always encouraging and always seemed to know exactly what to say and how to say it, ensuring that each session built on the last. At some point, after complaining about feeling sick from drinking pool water, Amy told me ‘don’t drink it, just spit it out’. It was these pearls of wisdom that saw my swimming improve and my morale with it. Seeing this new spark, Amy convinced me that what I needed now, more than anything else, was to submerge my body into an outdoor pool at 5:45 am on Mondays. And thus began my twice-weekly swim sessions. I haven’t looked back yet.

I’ve come a long way since holding my breath underwater and starting from scratch has had a lot of advantages. I know nothing other than bilateral breathing and I’ve never contemplated rotating my arm on entry. The idea of pool buoy and paddles evokes genuine excitement and I don’t cry when I’m asked to swim 400 metres. I’m making more and more appearances at the run sessions and I’ve just purchased my first bike for my post-COVID cycling debut.

Two years ago, I didn’t think swimming, cycling and running would ever be a key feature of my life, but that’s what TriChicks becomes. It’s a group of wonderful women, from any number of backgrounds, that support each other no matter what their ability. It’s a key part of your life for all the right reasons.

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