2012 Goal: Learning to Swim

I never thought learning to swim would be this difficult. And after a couple swimming lessons in the past week, I never thought swimming could be this easy. Wait a minute, you’re saying (for those who know me), “You’re forty-seven years old and you’re just learning to swim? Well, yes and no. If you’ve followed this blog, you’ve probably read a few posts about my Ironman triathlete friend, Scott Rigsby. After being with Scott last October for the 2011 Ford Ironman, watching the world’s greatest athletes compete in one of the world’s most challenging endurance races, and getting to be a part of Scott’s team, I finally threw in the towel (some pun intended) and made it my 2012 goal to do a triathlon. And after the past two months in the pool, I’ve wondered, “What have I got myself into?”

Scott had been telling me again and again, that the very first thing I needed to do, was to get a swim coach. So after logging in a lot of miles running, biking and thrashing like an armless squid in the water for six weeks, I finally found a tri coach who specializes in swimming. (BTW, squids don’t thrash…I do.)

Now, I grew up around the ocean and have done lots of surfing and bodysurfing. I’ve always felt comfortable in the water, but I was never a “swimmer” swimmer. You know the type. They loll around the water like otters and porpoises doing effortless strokes like they are strolling along the beach. I’ve never understood how land-born creatures like that could swim so easily? Not that I have Speedo-envy or anything.

So, on my first swim lesson, my new coach, Pepper Erlinger, had me do a 100 meters to watch my stroke. Standing on the edge of the pool, her first question to me was, “Do you feel like you’re sinking?”

“All my life,” I responded. “I’ve always felt like my legs weigh a hundred pounds.”

“Which is why you’re kicking so hard,” Pepper peppered back. “You’ve got a great kick and that needs to go.”

Pepper went on to explain that my swimstroke, effectively, stunk. (Not her words, but mine). She then set me on a whole new series of beginner swimming lessons designed to do three things:

    1. Balance: I am now doing balance drills in the pool, that if not done properly, will hasten my death by drowning. I’m serious. I’m doing floating drills, swimming on my side, swimming in full 360 degree rotation: left-side, facedown, right-side, on back. Reaching long, relaxing, turning my body from side-to-side and long in the water. Never taught me this stuff as a kid!
    1. Kill the Kick: My kick, the very thing that I thought was helping me was the very thing burning up all my O2! On my last lesson, Pepper looked at me and said, “You’re making me anxious watching you.” “Oh God,” I thought, “Are you speaking to me? Isn’t that the same thing you say to me?” If there’s anyone ever guilty of trying too hard, it’s me.
    1. Swim Downhill: Did you hear that? Pepper told me I’m to actually push my chest down in the water and swim downhill. You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. That is the complete opposite of what I want to do! Up is where the oxygen is. Pepper explained that by pushing my chest down, it would actually force my hips up to help me glide better in the water.

I won’t overwhelm you with all the details of my first couple swimming lessons, but already I’m learning a ton. In fact, there’s a number of spiritual principles that are right in line with my swimming lessons.

  • Keep an open mind and learn something new. Never stop thinking, learning and exploring new ways for God to teach you.
  • Balance in life will help buoy you through the inevitable challenges, obstacles, and problems that come your way.
  • The very thing you think is a strength may be a liability. What is your “kick” and how is it burning up your O2?
  • Whatever comes most natural, do the opposite! That first word, that first reaction, that first look. Resist the temptation to do what comes most natural. What comes most natural tends to get us in trouble. Seek the Holy Spirit to do the supernatural.

I know my triathlon training will provide me with plenty of stories in the coming year. My first race is March 3 in La Quinta and you can hold me to it. A final note: I just did my first timed 500 meter swim and because of Pepper’s instructions, I swam longer and fastest than I have in the previous two months training. Why? I found better balance. I killed the killer kick. And I swam downhill.

For a long time now, I think God’s been trying to tell me the same things as Pepper. Is anyone with me on this or am I swimming alone here?

Questions: What helps you find balance in life? What is your killer kick and why does it need to go? What comes most naturally to you and how can you seek God’s help to do the opposite? What are the benefits for you and others?

I’d love your thoughts and comments.

If you want a great read from one of the top triathletes in the world, read: I’m Here to Win: A World Champion’s Advice for Peak Performance by Chris McCormack. It’s available in My Bookshelf.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, snarky or off-topic.

  • Arie

    Hi Joey,

    A nice post! I like swimming very much, so that made it the more interesting to read. I like the analogy, and I will start thinking about your questions: about balance, killer kick and what comes natural. But as with your swimming lessons, it probably takes quite some time for me to figure out what I could change or transform. What I like most about this post is that you start your story from a skill (swimming) most people somehow have learned when they were younger, and consider a natural part of their skills they use from time to time. It’s something you can do, but could actually improve a lot, when you take a closer look. That is helpful for me when I think about my faith. It kind of is something I ‘learned’ as a skill early on, but maybe I learned some stuff I should transform or lose. Thanks!

    • http://www.joeyo.org Joey O’Connor

      ¬†Thanks Arie…great thoughts you wrote. And can I say, “Let’s add stamina, perseverance and relaxing…” After two weeks of a massive head/chest cold, it’s taken the past week to get my pool fitness back again! Like anything, lay off it for a long time and you need to start again. Fortunately, it’s not back to square one because the swimming lessons have taught me how to swim more efficient and to relax as I balance in the water. Now, going faster is another story…

      Glad you enjoyed the post…I’m off for a bike ride this afternoon…no need worrying about drowning there, but I do have a car or two to watch out for! God bless!