If ever there was a perfect exercise, it would have to be swimming. Swimming works every muscle group and has the added benefit of being a low impact exercise. For those persons, for example, who have arthritis of the knees, the impact that would be experienced from walking or running is virtually erased.
In recent times, water exercise has become popular with the elderly along with those who may be plagued with niggling back injuries which prevent them from taking part in the more traditional forms of exercise.
It is one of the more exciting Olympic sports to watch. Many of us can attest to sitting on the edge of our seats during competition time cheering for our swimming sensation with as much passion as those who are actually at the games.
As a matter of fact, it is clear to most that swimming is not only a sport of physical prowess but one of formidable mental aptitude. It is not always the faster swimmer who wins but the one who swims the better mental race.
It was my desire for a sleek, lean physique, a disciplined mind and of course, the cardiovascular benefits that propelled me to take the plunge and learn to swim. Whilst away at university, I took advantage of the swimming lessons being offered there. I vividly recall walking down to ‘The Bowl’ to join my fellow nubies and the feeling of my heart racing in anticipation of what would happen next.
I gingerly entered the freezing water and under the watchful eye of the tutor, I awkwardly splashed my way from one side to the next on the shallow end of the pool. Of course, I stopped several times along that journey as I had not yet learned to coordinate breathing and gliding.
Mental fortitude is a powerful tool and week after week I made fewer stops as I transversed the pool. I remember the celebratory cheers when I made it from one side to the next without stopping. I was learning how to swim!
That celebration was short-lived as the coach decided that we would go to the deep end of the pool. Bear with me as we do a few mathematical calculations.
First, the standard pool at university was a rectangle which meant that the width of the pool at the shallow end was equivalent to the width at the deep end. This was great news because I could swim from one side to the other with no problem.
Second, the depth of the deep end of the pool ranged from six feet to 18 feet depending on if it was also used for diving. From Infants ‘A’, children are taught the concepts of ‘greater than’ and ‘less than’ and I mastered those concepts.
I am less than five feet tall and the deep end of the pool was more than six feet. I was sunk. I made sure that I was not the first in line to make that all important voyage across the pool. I glanced into the depths and as I expected, the water was an ominous dark blue monster waiting to swallow up non-swimmers such as myself.
I had no more delay tactics, and it was finally my turn to swim. It took me what seemed like forever to get my body into the water and I took several steadying breaths before I gingerly pushed off from the wall.
My compatriots cheered me as I bobbed and weaved in the blue abyss. And then it happened. In my mind, I began to run out of air and I knew there was nowhere for me to rest my feet. Panic set in as I knew I would not make it across. My direction changed from going across to going downwards and my life swam right before my eyes.
Those bubbles seen on the movies when people are drowning are real. I am truly grateful for adrenaline as I found some from my adrenal glands and I began to tread water. After what seemed like an hour, my lungs burning within my chest wall, I resurfaced and took that life altering breath.
I heard a splash, and I turned to the sound of the life preserver hitting the surface and grabbed on like my life depended on it. I took my time and glided to the finish. I ambled out of the pool and in sheer exhaustion lay down on the concrete walls trying to catch myself whilst thanking God I was still alive.
I took a break from swimming thereafter. In my mind, I didn’t go to university to drown but to read for a degree. I have made several attempts to learn how to swim since then, none of them successful. However, that mental fortitude remains. I am resolute that I will learn to swim before I retire.
(Rénee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:[email protected])